Connecting Rural Communities to Higher Education and Workforce Certifications
Connecting rural communities to higher education and workforce certifications is a necessity for the economic sustainability and expansion for thousands of small communities across America. A new non profit startup in a geographically large but very rural county in the mountains of Colorado is tackling this very challenge. With a sparse population that experiences high volumes of migration and immigration of populations based on the seasonality of the mountain ski and guest ranch resorts the challenges to employee attraction and retention are unique to most rural communities.
Grand County Higher Education, lead by the director Dr. Scott Springston, is a non profit organization funded by donations from businesses, individuals and foundations based out of a need to develop cutting edge pathways and partnerships that provides access to residents and the workforce to continuing learning opportunities, post-secondary and high skill workforce training. Grand County, Colorado encompasses 1,870 square miles with 14,289 residents (2013 census data) and has a 3.8% unemployment rate. The county is roughly 2/3rd the size of the state of Connecticut and is nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains.
In Grand County, currently there are no avenues or opportunities for residents to access higher education or industry certification training programs. Multiple years of qualitative feedback data from businesses, non-profits, chambers of commerce, public school systems, residents and city/county officials have identified, as a major deficit, the void of local access to continuing education and workforce training opportunities. The physical size, geography, and the weather conditions limit the ability of residents to travel outside of the county to access continuing education opportunities. In addition to these limiting factors, most of the existing workforce must balance a work or career with access to continuing education that fits within their work commitments.
Grand County Higher Education (GCHE) was formed, as a department of the Grand Foundation, out of the need to provide residents access to continuing education and workforce training opportunities that do not present exist. It also serves as a vital component within a robust economic development and sustainability plan for the county.
Grand County Higher Education will be a strategic leader and partner in continuing education and workforce skill development in Grand County by identifying current and future workforce needs; educational/continuing learning opportunities for Grand County residents; developing partnerships with post-secondary, high tech and vocational training institutions; provide scholarship assistance for residents; develop a County wide list of local experts to serve as instructors and train; and provide training locations that best fit the student’s needs living in a rural county of Colorado.
The goal of GCHE of connecting rural communities to higher education and workforce certifications in Grand County, CO starts with building a diverse group of key community partners and stakeholders who will provide assets in the form of intellect, vision, resources and funding. Second, is to build a parallel group of external partners and stakeholders who provide similar assets. Third, is to build local “bench strength” in the form of instructors. Fourth, is to continue to identify the key industry drivers and develop a prioritized list of career and college educational needs. And finally, work with external providers such as colleges and industry certification organizations to develop, implement and measure impact of the courses. In doing so Grand County Higher Education is a key partner in the economic sustainability and development of Grand County, CO through connecting rural communities to higher education and workforce certifications. www.scottspringston.com