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Washington, DC — The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) today announced an effort to build and pilot a model for creating career pathways for low-income rural students while addressing the needs of rural employers. APLU is partnering with the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development at Purdue University for the project. Together, the groups will support a team of Cooperative Extension professionals as they work to create a model to identify rural workforce needs, develop stakeholder partnerships, map workforce pathways, recruit and support low-income rural learners, and build entrepreneurship and leadership skills.

“We know the challenges facing rural learners and employers are unique,” said Sheila Martin, APLU’s Vice President of Economic Development and Community Engagement. “We need targeted approaches that increase career pathways for rural learners while meeting rural employers’ needs and spurring entrepreneurship and economic development. The work APLU and the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development are undertaking can help move the needle on these national challenges.”

Workers with a high school education or less in non-metropolitan areas experience higher unemployment than similar workers in metropolitan areas, according to research from the Federal Reserve. Labor force participation is also lower in these rural areas, even among working-age adults.

The new work aims to create a model for addressing these challenges. APLU and North Central Regional Center for Rural Development at Purdue University will work to help low-income rural students looking for their first career options while helping non-traditional working-learners such as displaced workers, those in low-wage jobs, and those facing barriers to employment such previous incarceration. They will test the approach in one area with low capacity for community-based economic development and one area with high capacity to ensure the scalability of the model. The groups will track participation data and impact, informing potential refinements, before disseminating the model publicly.

Ascendium Education Group is supporting the work with a two-year, nearly $400,000 grant. Following the completion of the project, APLU will share the results and lessons of the pilots.