Rural Community College Initiative

Rural America needs a development strategy that is based on place, not commodity or economic sector. Furthermore, to ensure that benefits accrue to all people residing and working in rural areas, this type of strategy must be developed from a broad-based engagement of all affected parties. This requires that a diverse group of people, organizations, and institutions must communicate and work together to produce viable community and economic development strategies.

The facilitation of such a group is a legitimate and much needed role uniquely suited to the nation's rural community colleges due to their stature as a neutral provider of leadership and knowledge and their permanent residence within rural communities. Rural community colleges have historically participated in promoting access to their educational programs and providing input and leadership in community and economic development activities.

The basic philosophy of the Rural Community College Initiative is to strengthen rural communities by assisting their community colleges in assuming a more active leadership role in three distinct, yet interrelated areas that are essential to the inclusive, place-based type of community development described earlier.


Civic engagement by all groups within the community is an essential ingredient to equitable and sustainable development. In the past, many development efforts have focused on a selected group of parties within a community and have not considered the impact that people or organizations who are uninvolved, but are inherently affected by the development process, can have on change within the community. However, engagement of all community residents, workers, and organizations is necessary for an equitable and sustainable process.

Increased educational access is another vital factor in place-based development, particularly in the economic development component. A primary focus of the RCCI is to work with rural community colleges in determining new methods of providing their educational programs to traditionally underserved components of the community. This effort will result in a new delivery paradigm in which people who have traditionally felt excluded from increased participation in economic and development activity can achieve a higher standard of living for themselves and their families.

The third foundation of the RCCI is equitable and sustainable economic development. This type of economic development requires increased civic engagement to provide grass-roots direction for the community's future and increased educational access to better equip the community residents for participation in increased economic activity within the community. Once these two foundations are achieved, appropriate economic development strategies can be formulated to raise the standard of living for all community residents.


The goals associated with this new phase of the RCCI program are as follows:

  • Expand the network of rural community colleges actively engaged in the RCCI program in the U.S.
  • Build new and sustained working relationships between rural community colleges and the Land-Grant University System for the purpose of advancing the economic development, educational access, and civic involvement needs of the geographic areas served by these educational institutions.
  • Deepen the capacity of the new 24 RCCI colleges, as well as the RCCI alumni institutions, to become agents of rural development innovations in the areas that they serve.
  • Strengthen RCCI participants' understanding of national rural development policy activities and facilitate their engagement in guiding rural policy discussions and decisions at the federal level.

    To achieve these goals, the following strategies will be carried out:
    • Develop and implement a geographic cluster-based selection process of rural community colleges, with the goal of adding a total of 24 new rural community colleges over the course of the four-year period.
    • Provide training, coaching, and technical assistance to the new RCCI clusters to implement the innovative RCCI change process. The necessary talent to carry out these responsibilities will be drawn from RCCI alumni institutions, Land-Grant University System Extension educators, nonprofit organizations, and other appropriate entities.
    • Network the new cluster members and alumni through linked web pages, web discussions, learning clusters, RCCI institutes, specialized training activities, and RCCA annual conferences.
    • Develop national rural development policy information updates and organize field trips to Washington, DC in partnership with AACC. The Washington, DC visits will offer RCCI participants a vehicle for sharing their insights on current/emerging rural development-related policy activities with agency and Congressional representatives who are involved in shaping such national legislative activities.
    • Provide logistical assistance to the RCCA in planning and carrying out its annual conference