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HSIs Grant Deadline: U.S. Department of Education Rural Postsecondary and Economic Development Grant Program
June 20, 2023
The purpose of the Rural Postsecondary and Economic Development (RPED) Grant Program is to improve rates of postsecondary enrollment, persistence, and completion among rural students through development of career pathways aligned to high-skill, high-wage, and in-demand industry sectors and occupations in the region.
Background: Rural students account for 9.7 million—about 19 percent—of public elementary and secondary school students in the United States and face many challenges accessing postsecondary education. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), only 29 percent of individuals from rural areas who are between the ages of 18 and 24 are enrolled in higher education, compared to almost 48 percent of individuals in that age range who come from urban areas and 42 percent from suburban areas. In fact, an analysis of National Education Longitudinal Study data found urban students nationally were 74 percent more likely to enroll in college than rural students and 106 percent more likely than rural students to attain a bachelor’s degree.
For rural students, and particularly low-income and underserved rural students, barriers to accessing postsecondary education include difficulties in accessing high speed internet, transportation, child care, and healthcare; as well as challenges of experiencing poverty, food insecurity, and housing insecurity. Furthermore, many rural students who do decide to attend college are first-generation students who lack sufficient college preparation in high school, and are unfamiliar with the inner workings of postsecondary institutions, including the college application process and how to finance a college education. These students may feel underprepared for higher education and typically face challenges once in college; many experience hurdles that leave them unable to complete their programs. Accordingly, these inequities in college readiness and knowledge may discourage individuals from underserved student populations from continuing their education beyond high school. These and other challenges may negatively affect rural students’ ability to be academically successful and in turn be competitive in the job market.
Many of these challenges result from geographic isolation, distance from services, and a lack of resources and institutions to support community members. Rural communities are often located in education deserts, which may limit students’ exposure or convenient access to postsecondary institutions. For many rural students, transportation is a barrier to accessing colleges where they can earn a bachelor’s degree, and thus they begin their postsecondary education at 2-year colleges.
For rural students who do attend postsecondary education, research has shown that rural high school graduates were more likely to enroll in 2-year colleges (44 percent) compared to their urban counterparts (39 percent). However, even after controlling for differences in academic achievement, poverty, and distance between high schools and colleges, students who graduate from rural high schools are still more likely than students who graduate from nonrural schools to enroll in a 2-year rather than a 4-year college. In academic year 2018–2019 alone, there were 298 public community and technical colleges that were designated by NCES with the rural locale designations rural fringe (41), rural distant (42), or rural remote (43). In the same academic year, these colleges enrolled 84.8 percent of the 1.14 million undergraduates attending rural postsecondary institutions.
To overcome these barriers, many States are beginning to introduce early college programs that expose secondary students to postsecondary education and improve their college readiness, often through creating partnerships with community colleges. Research has shown that 2-year colleges play a significant role in postsecondary access for rural students and create a broader set of entry points to 4-year schools for many students who cannot afford or access 4-year institutions upon high school graduation. Furthermore, 2-year institutions have been shown to enroll a higher number of traditionally underserved students, such as minority students, working-class students, and first-generation college students. Although there are many barriers that do play a significant role in postsecondary access for rural students, it is important to highlight the role 2-year institutions can play in helping rural students succeed academically and transition into a career.
Furthermore, higher education attainment is correlated with increased career opportunities, higher individual lifetime earnings, better quality of life, and positive contributions to society. Therefore, it is critical to undertake efforts that better prepare students in rural communities for the changing needs of the current workforce, and to create a more skilled workforce that will attract better jobs and provide economic support to the community. Such improvements in the educational outcomes for rural communities highlight the need for partnerships between schools and Federal, State, or local agencies or community-based organizations that can help students succeed both academically and in their career. However, many rural areas have fewer resources with which to access services and partnerships that are key to quality rural education. Research shows that creating partnerships can “help schools get assistance with special resource needs; supplement classroom learning; understand the business world, its resources, its requirements, and its concerns; and gain expertise in technical and management areas. The private sector and community organizations can also provide rural schools with tutoring, apprenticeships, speakers, equipment, scholarships, and motivation.” Therefore, institutions in rural communities must be given the tools to develop strategies and plans that best serve their population of rural students.
Rural postsecondary institutions, specifically 2-year rural postsecondary institutions, are best positioned to enhance and develop programs that improve the preparation, support, and retention of rural students in higher education, and that help them to graduate from college and transition into in-demand and well-paying occupations. To this end, the RPED Grant Program is designed to support postsecondary enrollment and completion by addressing the challenges rural students face accessing postsecondary education that will prepare them for high-skill, high-wage, and in-demand occupations.
Priorities: This notice contains two absolute priorities, one competitive preference priority, and three invitational priorities. Absolute Priority 1 is from the Administrative Priorities for Discretionary Grant Programs published in the Federal Register on March 9, 2020 (85 FR 13640) (Administrative Priorities). Absolute Priority 2 and the competitive preference priority are from the Secretary’s Supplemental Priorities and Definitions for Discretionary Grants Programs, published in the Federal Register on December 10, 2021 (86 FR 70612) (Supplemental Priorities).
Absolute Priorities: For FY 2023, and any subsequent year in which we make awards from the list of unfunded applications from this competition, these priorities are absolute priorities. Under 34 CFR 75.105(c)(3), we consider only applications that meet each of these priorities.
These priorities are:
Absolute Priority 1—Rural Applicants
Under this priority, an applicant must demonstrate one or more of the following:
(a) The applicant proposes to serve a community that is served by one or more LEAs with a locale code of 32, 33, 41, 42, or 43;
(b) The applicant proposes a project in which a majority of the schools served have a locale code of 32, 33, 41, 42, or 43;
(c) The applicant is an institution of higher education (IHE) with a rural campus setting, or the applicant proposes to serve a campus with a rural setting. Rural settings include any of the following: Town-Fringe, Town-Distant, Town-Remote, Rural Fringe, Rural-Distant, Rural-Remote, as defined by the NCES College Navigator search tool.
Applicants are encouraged to retrieve locale codes from the NCES School District search tool ( https://nces.ed.gov/ccd/districtsearch/), where LEAs can be looked up individually to retrieve locale codes, and the Public School search tool ( https://nces.ed.gov/ccd/schoolsearch/), where individual schools can be looked up to retrieve locale codes. Applicants are encouraged to retrieve campus settings from the NCES College Navigator search tool ( https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/) where IHEs can be looked up individually to determine the campus setting.
Absolute Priority 2—Increasing Postsecondary Education Access, Affordability, Completion, and Post-Enrollment Success
Projects that are designed to increase postsecondary access, affordability, completion, and success for underserved students by addressing one or more of the following priority areas:
(a) Increasing postsecondary education access and reducing the cost of college by creating clearer pathways for students between institutions and making transfer of course credits more seamless and transparent.
(b) Increasing the number and proportion of underserved students who enroll in and complete postsecondary education programs, which may include strategies related to college preparation, awareness, application, selection, advising, counseling, and enrollment.
(c) Supporting the development and implementation of student success programs that integrate multiple comprehensive and evidence-based services or initiatives, such as academic advising, structured/guided pathways, career services, credit-bearing academic undergraduate courses focused on career, and programs to meet basic needs, such as housing, child care and transportation, student financial aid, and access to technological devices.
(d) Supporting the development and implementation of high-quality and accessible learning opportunities, including learning opportunities that are accelerated or hybrid online; credit-bearing; work-based; and flexible for working students.
(e) Supporting the development and implementation of evidence-based strategies to promote students’ development of knowledge and skills necessary for success in the workforce and civic life.
(f) Providing secondary school students with access to career exploration and advising opportunities to help students make informed decisions about their postsecondary enrollment decisions and to place them on a career path.