Officials from USDA Rural Development have signed an agreement with rural community colleges to strengthen the rural economy by increasing rural residents' access to skills training and higher education, an outcome of the White House Rural Council to better coordinate federal resources to promote economic prosperity in rural communities.
"We need well-trained and properly educated students to compete and win in the world market and build a strong economy," said Dallas Tonsager, Under Secretary for Rural Development. "This agreement calls for rural community colleges and USDA to work together more closely to improve the accessibility and quality of education in rural communities. This partnership will help businesses create jobs and grow the rural economy."
"Partnerships such as these will help us get students interested in science, technology and math, which we'll need for the next generation to take their place in food and agriculture science," said Catherine Woteki, USDA's Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics (REE). "With such training, students can keep our farmers producing, our families fed, and our country an international leader in agricultural exports. That's a strategy I applaud." Dr. Woteki attended the signing ceremony on behalf of REE.
USDA Rural Development, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and the Rural Community College Association (RCCA) will share resources and expertise to increase educational and training opportunities for rural residents. Tonsager said the Obama administration and USDA continues to recognize the importance of higher education in providing businesses with the highly skilled employees they need to create economic opportunities, and the agreement furthers that effort.
The agreement, formally referred to as a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), spells out ways the colleges and USDA will work together to provide training opportunities to rural residents.
The MOU calls for the participants to:
- Establish working groups to coordinate Rural Development's financial and technical resources with private sources of assistance to better help rural educational institutions.
- Develop outreach and technical assistance models for rural educational institutions.
- Co-sponsor events such as conferences, seminars, webinars and other networking events.
- Hold joint events to identify and remove potential barriers to resources or services.
The agreement, signed by Under Secretary Tonsager is another step in a continued effort by Rural Development to assist rural colleges through its programs. Earlier, at a White House Rural Council briefing, Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Doug O'Brien discussed the importance of community colleges to supporting the economy of rural America.
Tonsager noted that through the Community Facilities Program, USDA can provide colleges with loans and grants to construct and renovate classrooms and dormitories, and to purchase school student transportation vehicles. Distance Learning and Telemedicine grants can cover the cost of video conferencing and distance learning equipment. The Community Connect program provides grants to build broadband infrastructure and establish community centers that offer free public access in rural areas where broadband service is least likely to be available. Each of these programs helps meet President Obama's objective to grow the economy by out-building and out-educating the competition.
The American Association of Community Colleges is a non-profit organization representing almost 1,200 two-year, associate degree-granting institutions and more than 11 million students. It was founded in 1920 for charitable and educational purposes to support the nation's community colleges. The Rural Community College Association is a non-profit organization that helps colleges partner with their communities to improve education access and local economic conditions.
USDA, through its Rural Development mission area, administers and manages housing, business and community infrastructure and facility programs through a national network of state and local offices. Rural Development has an active portfolio of more than $165 billion in loans and loan guarantees. These programs are designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers and improve the quality of life in rural America.