The following was appeared in The Daily Yonder, published by the nonprofit, Center for Rural Strategies.
By Nick Fouriezos / Open Campus
Rural students are the least likely to attend college or earn a degree — a problem exacerbated in recent years by persistent shortages of both rural educators and rural guidance counselors.
“The pandemic has pushed college and career readiness to the back burner, if it’s even on the stove at all anymore,” says Rick Dalton, the CEO and President of CFES Brilliant Pathways.
Short for “College for Every Student,” his New England-based nonprofit trained more than 2,500 College and Career readiness advisors in 2021, including teachers and parents, secretaries and coaches, school bus drivers and cafeteria workers.
The concept: If rural areas can’t staff up to address counselor shortages, they can at least equip their current educators with the knowledge they need to offer counsel.
“It takes a village,” Dalton says. “Let’s make sure the village has the knowledge it needs.”
These “quasi-counselors,” as Dalton calls them, attend four 30-minute virtual courses, learning about everything from FAFSA completion to nontraditional careers within growing fields like health care.
They graduate with a professional certificate from Middlebury College and have continued access to online resources with the latest information about college and financial aid.
That education is especially valuable when you consider that only about 25% of the counselors at high schools have received any professional development around college advising.
“Everybody who has contact with our kids needs to be delivering that message,” Dalton says. “You can do it: Here’s how.”
Dalton has ambitious goals to expand the program, hoping to train 50,000 advisers in the next five years — a goal that’s been made more attainable by the widespread adoption of virtual instruction during the pandemic.
When Dalton first began his work, a lot of the national focus was on the needs of students in urban areas, where 65% of the students that CFES Brilliant Pathways come from.
As of late, though, his organization has increased need with rural students who are getting “the short end of the stick,” as Dalton says.
Rural students graduate from high school at slightly higher rates than their urban or suburban peers, but it remains challenging to get the resources needed to help them take that next step.
“People want to spend money where there is a significant density of students, and where they think they can have better bang for your buck,” says Dalton, who knows a few things about rural challenges himself.
The Essex, New York native’s regular commute includes a 20-minute ferry ride across Lake Champlain and then a half hour drive — hardly abnormal for him or other upstate New Yorkers whose work often centers around Middlebury or Burlington in Vermont.
“Just to let you know how rural life is here,” Dalton quips, while taking our Zoom meeting from the front seat of his pickup truck.