My Experience at the Rural College Access and Success Summit

Ashley Justice is a Program Manager & School Liaison for the Capital Area College Access Network, which is a Local College Access Network (LCAN) in the Lansing area

At the end of April, I was able to attend the Rural College Access and Success Summit in Lexington, Kentucky. I went to Kentucky looking for best practices and inspiration to bring back to our rural communities in Ingham and Eaton counties as part of CapCAN’s College Attainment for Rural Students initiative. What I found was a large community of dedicated, rural practitioners passionate about their own rural communities, and I learned so much from them.

The summit was kicked off by a plenary with the former Education Secretary, Dr. John B. King Jr. Currently, Secretary King is the CEO of the Education Trust. Secretary King spoke about having the necessary moral courage to fight and advocate for our students to have opportunities, and the necessity of mentors, especially for our rural students who are more likely to come from a low-income family and to be the first in their families to go to college. With 20% of the public school population classified as rural, King stated “America cannot succeed without the success of rural America.” This was a great way to kick off the conference, and to remind the practitioners of the importance of our work, not just for our communities, but for our country as a whole.

During the first breakout, Sarah Beesley from Concord University spoke about some of the barriers that she faces working with rural West Virginian students. One of the barriers that stood out to me was the overall lack of confidence among rural students in their abilities to succeed in college. Many of these students came from areas where they didn’t interact with adults who hold a college degree outside of doctors and teachers. They didn’t have role models and mentors who had similar backgrounds or experiences to support them. Their strongest support network was their peer network. However, many of these peer support networks dwindled as fewer and fewer students progressed in their college education, often dropping out after their first or second year. Another major barrier that Beesley spoke about was the harm of the stereotypes of rural students. It’s a stereotype that we see a lot in the mediathat people who live in rural areas are ignorant and poor. Rural students don’t see many positive examples of themselves in colleges to counteract these views. It creates a situation where the rural students either do not go or are not comfortable on college campuses resulting in dropping out of college.

A common theme throughout the sessions was around how to better engage parents in the college going process. A speaker out of rural California created a Parent Advisory Committee, which allowed for a group of trained parents to educate and engage other parents in the college-going process. The parents were trained to hold their own meetings with other parents to better inform them about the college-going culture and help dispel the myths surrounding it.  

Another prominent theme was how to better engage rural communities. Presenters talked about bringing in mentors to work with students while students were enrolled in both high school and college. It is important for the students to feel supported by these mentors in their pursuit of a degree. Mentors allow for students to see that they don’t have to choose between remaining part of their rural communities or going to college, as many students feel like they are rejecting their community’s way of life by making the choice to get a college degree. Community support helps rural students feel like they have a place to come back to once they do receive their college degree.

I took much away from the summit. I learned about some best practices occurring in other rural areas of the country. I also connected with the NACAC Rural and Small Town Special Interest Group and found some great resources within that. But what I really took away was the sense that CapCAN is now part of a larger movement to assist the rural population of students who have largely been forgotten to navigate the college process. I cannot wait to put all of the things I’ve learned into practice here in the rural communities within Ingham and Eaton counties. Thank you to MCAN for sponsoring my trip down to Lexington, it was truly a life changing experience. 

Author: Ashely Justice
Posted: June 11, 2019

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