LeagueTLC Innovation Express
Exploring Issues, Innovations,
and New Developments with Information Technology Professionals
Successful Rural Economies: Benchmark Practices at
Technology Strategies, Inc.
Rural America is
undergoing a major restructuring. A half century ago rural America
was mainly agricultural; today only a small percentage of its people
are employed full time in farming. From midcentury through the 1980s,
industrial plants took flight from cities to rural areas, recruiting
people from the farms to work in the new factories; today those
same plants are vacating for other countries. Expanding cities,
land developers, and Interstate highways encroach on what were once
remote and relatively tranquil rural communities. The stimulating
pace, job possibilities, and promise of higher salaries in large
cities continue to draw young people away from rural areas.
Most rural regions
in the United States and other industrialized countries grapple
with similar challenges created by declining employment in agriculture,
decreasingly competitive industrial labor costs compared to developing
countries, and infrastructure shortcomings ranging from poor public
transportation to poor connections to the information highway.
also creates opportunities for some rural areas. Increasing congestion
and pollution in metropolitan areas and the natural resource amenities
that rural areas can offer are enticing to some individuals and
companies. A rural location is less of a drawback today than in
years past for firms whose products are easily transportable, such
as software or light electronics, or those that can communicate
virtually with colleagues and customers over the internet and telecommunications.
Despite the bright
spots, most rural areas will have to continue to depend on building
and sustaining the competitiveness of their homegrown industries
as well as incubating new ones - all at a time when requirements
for advanced technologies and skills are increasing. Economic and
technological forces are shifting the factors that afford competitive
advantage to higher levels of skills and technology.
In this new environment,
many community or technical colleges have risen to the challenge of
the new economy and expanded their mission to help rural businesses—especially
small- and mid-size enterprises—and
labor forces adapt to changing needs. Over the past two decades,
community and technical colleges have accumulated a vast storehouse
of experience in delivering a spectrum of education and training
programs and innovative services to rural companies to help them
modernize, become more competitive, and grow. Because two-year colleges
are less entrenched in tradition and have stronger regional missions
than universities or vocational centers, they are better able to
respond quickly to market demands and changing conditions.
In spite of new technological connections, many administrators and
faculty at community colleges, as well as other rural economic development
leaders, have limited opportunities to learn about new and innovative
practices. Most of their information is obtained from relatively
parochial sources. Such information often lacks the depth, detail,
and objectivity to support improvement and change. Furthermore,
those colleges with the most to gain from the experience of others
are often the most isolated from information sources, and the least
exposed to innovative practices. These are the small, underserved,
and rural community colleges.
In 2001, Regional
Technology Strategies, Inc. (RTS) published the results of a grant
from the USDA's Fund for Rural America to identify benchmark practices
at rural community and technical colleges in the U.S. and other
countries where internet technology (IT) has made a positive impact
on local economies. Many of these practices revolve around meeting
IT skill and infrastructure needs.
This effort has been
conducted under the auspices of the Trans-Atlantic Technology and
Training Alliance (TA3), a consortium of 34 leading technical
colleges in the southern U.S., Europe, and South Africa that
exchange and innovation in technical education and regional economic
development. A guiding rationale behind the TA3 is the valuable
opportunity to observe and examine practices outside U.S. borders,
and particularly in other advanced industrial economies. A new perspective
through a global lens gives colleges access to innovative and successful
practices elsewhere that in turn can stimulate innovation at home.
For the same reason, this project sought not only successful practices
in the United States, but also those undertaken in other nations
by institutions most closely resembling community colleges. These
include, for example, the Further Education colleges in the UK,
the Institutes of Technology in Ireland, the Technical Colleges
in Denmark, and the Fachhochschule in Austria.
Data Sources and
A profile of each selected college was generated to support
Benchmark Practices. RTS staff and consultants wrote these profiles
using information and data from numerous sources including nomination
forms and supporting documents; interviews with program administrators,
clients and partners; program evaluations; program brochures; websites;
and press-coverage articles.
In order to provide
a context for each practice, each profile includes a table of socio-economic
indicators for the region served by the program. In addition, a
community background section is included in the program narratives.
The data tables were compiled using United States Census figures
with the exception of Service Area data which were provided by each
participating institution. The data sources, collected at varying
dates, includes Total Population; Median Household Income; Poverty
Rate; Unemployment Rate; Minority Population; Rural Population;
High School Graduates; and College Graduates.
Of the 43 Benchmark
Practices, 32 were within the United States and 11 were located
as far away as Ireland, England, Denmark, Austria, and New Zealand.
Of these 32, four have been selected to include in this highlight.
For a full copy of the additional sites and programs, please visit
Community Colleges of Colorado - Rural E-Commerce
The Community Colleges of Colorado funded their Rural E-Commerce
Initiative to expand technology and education to help address and
serve the state's rural digital divide. Organized by the state community
college system, a partnership of community colleges, businesses,
and individuals is working to improve the technological infrastructure
of rural areas and support greater use of the internet and e-commerce
among rural residents. Colleges in rural parts of the state are
working together through networked collaboratives to offer training
to firms on e-commerce use, teaching high school students e-business
principles, and supporting careers in technology.
Community College - Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative
Considered among the state's most economically distressed
areas, Haywood Community College (HCC) in North Carolina has taken
major steps to rebuild and provide a stable foundation for regional
economic stability. In 1990, HCC initiated the Entrepreneurial Learning
Initiative as a program to foster and develop the application of
entrepreneurial ideas into every aspect of the college's curriculum.
That is, it seeks to create entrepreneurs out of all students, regardless
of field of study.
- Specialty Vegetable Marketing Tour
Located in the San Joaquin Valley, Fresno County's population
has been growing faster than the national average, adding more than
12 percent from 1990 to 1997. Much of the increase came from international
migration, especially from Central America and Southeast Asia. Many
of the rural people are farmers, and an increasing number of the
farmers - over 1,000 - are Asian Americans. These farmers tend to
produce a variety of specialty products from their homeland, crops
such as daikon, tatsoi, and gai choy, among others. The Specialty
Vegetable Marketing Tour targets Southeast Asian farmers and helps
them overcome obstacles in bringing their products to market. The
tour, conducted once a year, takes Asian farmers to farmers' markets
in San Francisco or Los Angeles to learn about wholesaling and retailing.
An agriculture instructor from Reedley College leads the tour with
the help of an interpreter.
Lakeshore Technical College Non-Traditional Occupations Program
The counties of eastern Wisconsin experienced a tremendous
economic revitalization in the last decade. Restoration of historic
downtowns, initiation of new development, and expansion of local
industry led to a significant decrease in regional unemployment
rates and a significant increase in the region's renown. Workforce
development and the hiring of skilled workers at affordable wages
have presented significant challenges to rural expansion. In response
to these challenges, Lakeshore Technical College (LTC) started the
Non-Traditional Occupations Program to stimulate awareness and opportunity
for women in specific professions typically dominated by males.
LTC recruits and offers women apprenticeship programs in several
occupations: carpenter, industrial electrician, machinist, millwright,
and others. At the close of the workshops, students are encouraged
and counseled to continue their education and earn either a one-year
technical diploma or a two-year associate degree through the college's
mainstream technical programs.
Evaluation Plan and Program Outcomes
As part of the research process, RTS staff classified
each Benchmark Practice according to location, program type, and
target population. Statistics related to the economic base for each
region were also evaluated, and determinations for these classifications
were verified by community college staff and by noted references
for the programs.
Each Benchmark Practice
Profile includes a brief introduction, program description, and
community background information. In greater detail, each profile
also includes more specifically designated sections for Outcomes,
Strengths, Challenges, and Replicability.
Many states, especially in the West and the South, are acutely aware
of the economic gulf between their urban and rural populations.
Barriers to reliable Internet access and the lower adoption rates
of information technology in rural areas are frequently cited as
sizeable barriers to economic growth. Many states offer initiatives
to support innovations and economic initiatives in rural regions,
and the recommendation of the RTS is active consideration of local
community colleges as critical levers for economic development.
Community colleges are well rooted within rural regions and flexible
in their operations and missions. With appropriate resources and
partnerships, rural community colleges can be fundamental in bringing
to rural economies and populations better access to service, information
technology, and a broader capacity to build competitive advantages
in their communities.
The ultimate value
of this project lies in the ability of other colleges to learn from
and replicate, in part if not in whole, elements of the Benchmark
Practices. The researchers hope that by identifying the contexts
and environments - economic, natural, structural - that have allowed
creativity and success to take root and flourish, other colleges
will be able to adopt practices or adapt them to their own institutions.
For more information,
Workforce Development Programs
Regional Technology Strategies, Inc.