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Sens. Collins, Hassan & Reps. Stefanik, Harder Introduce Legislation to Help Rural Students and Communities Succeed

Washington, D.C. — In a bipartisan effort to help rural communities thrive, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Representatives Elise Stefanik (NY-21) and Josh Harder (CA-10) introduced The Success for Rural Students and Communities Act.  Their bipartisan, bicameral bill would assist rural students in reaching their higher education goals and connect them with employment opportunities in their hometowns.  Senator Collins spoke from the Senate floor urging her colleagues to support this bipartisan bill.  The legislation is co-sponsored by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Tina Smith (D-MN).

“In Maine, 90 percent of students graduate from high school, but only about 62 percent enroll in higher education right away.  The urgent need to improve educational resources for students in rural America has been highlighted by the coronavirus crisis,” said Senator Collins.  “Our bipartisan bill encourages schools and employers to forge partnerships that will put students on pathways to the high-need jobs available where they live.  I encourage our colleagues to join us in supporting this legislation that will connect rural students with educational and economic opportunities across the country.”

“We need to equip our students in rural areas with the tools to succeed in today’s economy,” Senator Hassan said. “Too many rural Granite Staters struggle with accessing higher education and finding jobs where they live. That is why I am glad to join Senator Susan Collins in introducing this bipartisan bill that uses innovative strategies to support these students, which in turn will also help our local economies thrive.”

Congresswoman Stefanik said, "The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the need to close the degree attainment gap between students from rural communities and their peers. The Success for Rural Students and Communities Act will bring local school districts together with institutions of higher education and economic organizations to ensure our North Country students have greater opportunity to enroll in college, receive their degree, and then contribute to our local economies by thriving in high-demand jobs."

“Every kid, no matter where they’re from, deserves the same opportunity to pursue their dreams,” said Congressman Harder. “This bipartisan bill will make sure we give rural students the tools they need to enroll in higher education, get a degree, and make those dreams into reality. It’s time students in our Valley had the same access to higher ed as those growing up in the Bay.”

“It's validating to see the Success for Rural Students and Communities Act reflecting some of the most important learnings about how to clear the path to educational opportunity for students in rural America,” said Noa Meyer, President of rootEd Alliance. “Grant programs like these will drive innovation to take on this challenge and help us enable rural students and their communities to thrive."

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the unique challenges facing rural students pursuing postsecondary education,” said Lexi Barrett, JFF Associate Vice President. “JFF applauds the Success for Rural Students and Communities Act, which would provide investments in postsecondary pathways in rural communities to ensure more students are equipped to succeed in postsecondary education.  The bill also supports rural economic growth, which in turn ensures students have access to good jobs and career opportunities in their home communities.”

“All students should be able to realize the promise of higher education, but geographic and economic challenges in rural communities often make these opportunities more difficult,” said Allen Pratt, Ed.D., Executive Director of the National Rural Education Association.  “Investments in programs and innovative strategies that will help rural students achieve their education and career goals are critical to the success of rural communities. We applaud Senator Collins and Senator Hassan for their work on the Success for Rural Students and Communities Act and for their efforts on behalf of America’s rural students.”

Rural students tend to graduate from high school at higher rates than their peers in urban districts, and at about the same rate as their suburban peers; however, only 59 percent of rural graduates go straight to college, whereas 62 percent of urban graduates and 67 percent of suburban graduates do so.

The Success for Rural Students and Communities Act would improve college access for rural students by spurring innovation and investment in new strategies.  Specifically, the bill would create a demonstration program to encourage rural community stakeholders to partner together to help their students matriculate, graduate, and enter the workforce. These partnerships would draw on the talents of local school districts, institutions of higher education, regional economic development entities, and rural community-serving organizations.

The bill takes a holistic approach that assists students from high school with obtaining their first job by:

  • Encouraging rural students to pursue higher education

The bill calls for partnerships to coalesce around approaches that boost the higher education enrollment rates of rural students, including by exposing students and their families to college campuses, courses, programs, and internships, and to the career pathways to jobs at home. 

  • Removing barriers to graduation from post-secondary education

Many rural students are the first in their families to attend college.  The bill would give partnerships the authority and resources to help rural students navigate some of the common challenges of higher education, such as financial aid and selecting the educational programs that meet their needs. 

  • Putting students on pathways into the high-need jobs available where they live

The bill would encourage partnerships to work with employers to determine what credentials are needed for rural students to be hired, whether that is a college degree, a skilled trade credential, or a professional certificate.

A number of strategies could be developed and tested, including work-based learning opportunities such as apprenticeships, internships, and stackable career credentials. 

Click HERE to read the text of The Success for Rural Students and Communities Act.