27 Mar 2017

Connecting Rural Communities to Higher Education

Connecting Rural Communities to Higher Education

Connecting rural communities to higher education and industry certification pathways is critical to economic development and sustainability.  It is also a vital component to workforce attraction and retention in rural communities across the country.  Our county is in the western slope of Colorado encompassing 1,800 square miles driven by tourism industries such as Winter Park ski resort. In Grand County, currently there are very few organized avenues or opportunities for residents to access higher education or industry certification training programs.  Multiple years of feedback data from businesses, non-profits, chambers of commerce, public school systems, residents and city/county officials have identified, as a major deficit, limited 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.  Enter Grand County Higher Education.

Grand County Higher Education (GCHE) is a nonprofit venture, within the Grand Foundation, with a Director who reports to a governing committee.  GCHE is funded completely separate from the Grand Foundation through gifts and grants from individuals and foundations dedicated to our mission to deliver continuing learning, higher education and workforce development opportunities in Grand County.

As we continue to experience the growth in the population of Grand County how will we be prepared to not only attract a workforce to meet the expanding demand but equally as important, how will we provide the education, training and skill development to retain our quality workers?

To illustrate the current and future workforce needs in Grand County the Colorado State Demographer, with the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, presented the following Grand County statistics during a meeting conducted by Grand County Higher Education: over the next 10 years, about 25% of the labor force and jobs held will be aging out, there are currently more jobs than workers to fill existing jobs, and it is forecasted Grand County population will increase 5,000 residents by 2030.

So how will Grand County respond?

The needs presented in Grand County are quite simple- to address the limited local access to higher education, workforce training and continuing learning opportunities.  Through the work of GCHE, local access to learning opportunities will be provided that supports the industry sectors driving the local economy now and into the future.  Not only is the attraction and retention of the workforce critical, more importantly, the work of GCHE will provide local opportunities to ensure the workforce is highly educated and trained.

Grand County Higher Educations Focus:

Through GCHE there will be a central service for the residents and businesses in the County to be kept abreast of opportunities to continue their education.  In addition, GCHE will develop a network of local instructors and identified industry presenters who will be certified and credentialed to teach courses locally.  Not only will this bring a greater level of community buy in, keep costs lower, but it will also build the intellectual capital in the County.

The work of GCHE is not only a commitment to local economic development but also to economic sustainability though developing a highly skilled workforce in Grand County.  To achieve these commitments GCHE will:  provide direct access to adult learning opportunities, reduce barriers to access, increase the local workforce knowledge and skills, provide value to businesses through a higher skilled workforce, and add value to Grand County economic development and sustainability.

To learn more about how Grand County Higher Education is connecting rural communities to higher education please visit the Grand Foundation website at www.grandfoundation.com


Author Bio Tag:  Dr. Scott Springston is the Director of Grand County Higher Education and can be reached at  springstonsec@gmail.com

Leave a Reply