The following article was originally published by Burlington Free Press on April 23, 2021.

Rural students are among the least likely to attend and stay in college, but a new initiative launching in Vermont and northern New York hopes to change that.

Starting this fall, 20 area schools will participate in a three-year program designed to help rural students with college readiness. Students in elementary through high school will develop college and career readiness, be mentored, learn essential skills, work with business and community leaders, and be exposed to college life.

The University of Vermont is participating and will likely host visits to campus, provide college mentors, and allow students to meet faculty and students.

Rural students are more likely to graduate high school than their urban peers, but less likely to attend college and more likely to drop out of college, according to Rick Dalton, who is president of program sponsor CFES Brilliant Pathways and has written a book on the subject.

“Just 29% of rural Americans aged 18-24 are enrolled in colleges and universities, compared to 42% of all Americans in that age range,” a news release stated. About 60% of Vermont students chose to attend a post-secondary school, trailing the national average of 68%, according to the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation.

Dalton said 20% of children live in rural communities, but they can struggle the most with going to college and then returning home to a job that doesn’t pay well enough to make student loan payments.

In order to help these youth, the North Country Brilliant Pathways program will invest $1.5 million in Vermont and New York to help students prepare for college. Schools can apply for the free program by May 14. They will be selected based upon community need and a “commitment to changing the status quo,” Dalton said during the Thursday news conference.

Chosen schools will be announced on June 1 and the three-year program will begin for the fall 2021 semester.

By April Barton at or 802-660-1854. Follow her on Twitter @aprildbarton.