The following was originally published by the Sun Community News.

WASHINGTON, D.C. | CFES Brilliant Pathways President and CEO Rick Dalton spoke at a congressional briefing in Washington this month in support of The Success for Rural Students and Communities Act of 2023 that helps rural students achieve their college and career goals.

“This changes the trajectories not only of individuals, but of communities,” said Dalton, whose nonprofit has helped thousands of students under the Success for Rural Students and Communities Act, which has been funded since Fiscal Year 2021.

In 2022, CFES Brilliant Pathways received a three-year, $1.2 million Rural Postsecondary and Economic Development (RPED) grant, which has opened doors to college and careers for 3,200 students at 10 Northern New York schools in 27 rural communities. Rural communities often lack the economic opportunities of more populated areas. But with the rise of telecommuting and growing interest among students in running their own businesses, young people have more opportunities to build businesses and careers close to home, boosting rural economies in the process.

“Education has the power to level the playing field,” Dalton said. “Our RPED program ensures that students have a written post-secondary plan for education and the workplace.”

The briefing was co-sponsored by Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, and Rep. Josh Harder of California.

“I will continue leading efforts to support CFES Brilliant Pathways’ mission to close the degree attainment gap between students from rural communities like Upstate New York and the North Country and their peers,” said Congresswoman Stefanik. “Rural students like the hardworking ones in my district of NY-21 deserve our investment into their futures including exposure to higher education programs and pathways for career opportunities. I’m proud to call CFES Brilliant Pathways a partner in my efforts to make those programs and pathways accessible.”

The briefing was also supported by BDT & MSD Partners, a private merchant bank that has launched philanthropic initiatives to help rural students set and achieve their educational and career goals.

Noa Meyer, chief impact officer at BDT & MSD, noted that while 29 percent of rural students are enrolled in college, only a scant 7 percent of philanthropic educational resources reach rural students.

Meyer and Dalton said that’s why government help is critical for rural educational and economic development. “We couldn’t work with these 3,200 students without public funding,” Dalton said.

As CFES students work their way through college, many become College and Career Readiness advisors themselves and mentor the next generation of high school students by sharing their experiences and showing by example that college is achievable.

CFES’ mission also aligns with the intent of the Success for Rural Students and Communities Act by connecting local students with local employers through opportunities for work-based learning. Volunteers from local businesses also share their expertise and personal strategies for college and career success.

Of particular interest to congressional briefing participants was CFES’ 10-point plan for college and career readiness, which includes mentoring, college visits, career exploration, and education about methods of paying for higher education.

To ensure rural students are ready for tomorrow’s challenges, CFES stays at the forefront of educational and economic trends. On April 22, for example, CFES will host a summit for rural educators led by corporate and college leaders who will share how artificial intelligence is changing the faces of business and education.

Dalton said he’s thrilled the Success for Rural Students and Communities Act is building support. “The importance of this legislation is underscored by the fact that both sides of the aisle agree on this issue,” he said.