The following article was originally published by Vermont Business Magazine on June 3, 2021.

Program Addresses National Challenge: Rural Students Attend College at Lower Rates Than Those in Cities, Suburbs

Vermont Business Magazine CFES Brilliant Pathways, a college and career-readiness nonprofit based in Essex, NY, has chosen 20 rural schools in northeastern New York and Vermont for its newly launched North Country Brilliant Pathways program. Seventy-two schools applied for the program, which was announced in April.

The initiative, which has a value of $1.5 million, will provide schools with a multi-faceted, comprehensive college readiness program that will put more of their students on a path to college.

Currently, a lower percentage of rural students attend college compared with their urban and suburban counterparts, and they drop out at far higher rates.

“We couldn’t be more pleased with the responses, both in their number and quality,” said Rick Dalton, president & CEO of CFES Brilliant Pathways. “Too many rural young people lack the skills and education to take on today’s high-wage jobs, and they are being left out of the 21st century economy as a result. The goal of this program is to level the playing field for a large group of rural students and ultimately rural communities.”

The schools chosen demonstrated a need for the program and a strong commitment to working in partnership with CFES to make it successful, Dalton said.

“It’s gratifying to see so many schools apply for the North Country program,” said former New York governor George Pataki, who serves on the North Country Brilliant Pathways board. “It shows not only that there is a real need, but also that schools have confidence in CFES to deliver a program that will help students widen their horizons and achieve their goals. I’m very proud to be part of this effort.”

“I’m very pleased to see such a robust response from interested schools,” said Scott Thomas, dean of UVM’s College of Education, who also serves on the North Country board. “Based on my experience working with CFES, the program will make a real difference for these schools.”

North Country Brilliant Pathways will offer a variety of services to the participating schools (see Program Profilefor more details):

  •  A dedicated professional program director for each school will make in-person and virtual visits throughout the year and guide the development of college and career plans.
  •  Myriad professional development and enrichment opportunities for educators, partners and families, such as monthly college- and career-readiness advisor trainings certified by the University of Vermont.
  •  A vast library of resources, plus partnerships and networking opportunities with 200 colleges/universities and 230 businesses and corporations.
  •  Opportunities for networking, collaboration, and recognition, including becoming a nationally recognized School of Distinction.
  •  A partnership with an urban school to promote cultural exchange and connection and prepare students to navigate a diverse world.
  •  Each participating student will complete a 10-point college and career readiness plan annually that is certified by CFES.

The North Country Brilliant Pathways program is a distillation of strategies CFES has developed over its 30-year history, many of which are shared in detail in a new book written by Dalton, Rural Pathways to College and Career (Routledge, April 2021).

Dalton said the new program will be expanded in the future. “We hope to find additional funding to work with other schools that applied. All of them submitted strong applications. We also see the program as a national model that could be put in place in rural communities around the country.”

While rural students attend college at only slightly lower rates than urban students (59% vs 61%), retention rates are much lower. Just 29% of rural Americans aged 18-24 are enrolled in colleges and universities, compared to 42% of all Americans in that age range, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The pandemic has worsened the problem. FAFSA completions, a sign of intent to go to college, dropped 10% nationally this year and 15% in rural areas.

Fully two-thirds of all jobs and 80 percent of all jobs that pay a median of $65,000 or more require postsecondary education, according to research by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

The following schools were chosen for the program:


  • Brighton Elementary School, Island Pond
  • Enosburg Falls High School, Enosburg Falls
  • Leland and Gray Union High School, Townshend
  • Otter Valley Union High School, Brandon
  • Riverside Middle School, Springfield

New York

  • Brushton-Moira Central School, Brushton
  • Case Middle School, Watertown
  • Crown Point Central School, Crown Point
  • General Brown Central School, Dexter
  • Hermon DeKalb Central School, DeKalb Junction
  • JW Leary Junior High School, Massena
  • Keene Central School, Keene Valley
  • LaFargeville Central School, LaFargeville
  • Long Lake Central School, Long Lake
  • Northeastern Clinton Central School, Champlain
  • Northern Adirondack High School, Ellenburg Depot
  • Norwood Norfolk High School, Norwood
  • Plattsburgh High School, Plattsburgh
  • Saint Lawrence Central Elementary School, Brasher Falls
  • Tupper Lake Middle High School, Tupper Lake

CFES Brilliant Pathways is an international nonprofit that has helped over 100,000 urban and rural students attend college. Relying on research-driven methods and best practices, CFES has sent more than 90 percent of its students to college since 1991, and currently serves 25,000 students in 30 states and Ireland.