Guest column – Rural schools should step up

By Toni Estep

Based on today’s economic climate, jobs will be harder to obtain and will require a more specifically trained workforce.

But training is costly, especially when it involves a college degree that is ever more expensive.

Rising tuition often means workers most in need of upgraded skills, those in rural areas, are usually left behind.

Community colleges, less expensive and more accessible, fill the gap in providing training and re-training opportunities.

In today’s economy, the reality is that if community colleges are to continue their current operations as well as develop programs to address the needs of their communities, they must explore innovative streams of funding.

One untapped source is to establish a community foundation. Foundations are a major source of philanthropic activities. Their purpose is to promote civic responsibility and supplant the financial support of community services.

Universities and colleges have historically sought out philanthropy and foundations to assist in developing and implementing new programs. Community colleges, however, have not approached fundraising quite as vigorously.

Rural philanthropy can take the form of a community foundation. While similar to private foundations, community foundations represent a large number of donors and their numerous resources, unlike private foundations, that usually represent a single individual or a specific group.

Rural is different. Rural areas are remote from the fundraising action. They do not house philanthropic institutions, nor do they often receive private, corporate philanthropic dollars targeted for community and economic development.

A plan for developing the community’s assets should be designed, community leaders need to be identified, strategic planning and development need to occur at the local level, and local donors need to be identified and engaged.

The community college is a natural to assume leadership.

Establishing a successful community foundation addresses the economic and social well-being of a community’s citizens and weaves with other natural resources to perpetuate growth and health development.

The needs of the community must be addressed on a local level with active engagement among the partners. This role can and should belong to the community college.

Toni Estep, a consultant to the Community and Technical College of West Virginia University Institute of Technology, is a doctoral student in the College of Graduate Studies in Education in South Charleston, W. Va., for Marshall University.

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