Agriculture Under Secretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager has announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the American Association of Community Colleges that is designed to highlight one of the goals of the White House Rural Council - to expand access to training and higher education for rural citizens and strengthen the rural economy.
"The Obama Administration and USDA recognize that an educated and skilled workforce is essential to helping businesses grow and create jobs in rural areas," said Tonsager. "The Rural Council recognizes that stronger education is vital to better jobs, and this MOU is an important step toward strengthening our rural economy by developing a stronger, more competitive workforce that businesses must have in order to succeed."
The MOU calls for the participants to:
- Facilitate increased cooperation between USDA Rural Development and the rural community colleges, to leverage partnerships and work together to strengthen the rural economy:
- Establish working groups to coordinate Rural Development's financial and technical resources with private sources of assistance to better serve educational institutions;
- Develop outreach and technical assistance models for rural educational institutions;
- Co-sponsor events such as conferences, seminars, webinars and other networking events;
- Hold joint events to identify and remove potential barriers to resources or services.
The agreement continues the work of USDA Rural Development in assisting rural colleges, students and rural communities. For example, through the Community Facilities Program, USDA can provide colleges with loans and grants to construct and renovate classrooms and dormitories, and to purchase school transportation vehicles. Distance Learning and Telemedicine grants can cover the cost of video conferencing and distance learning equipment. The Community Connect program provides grants to build broadband infrastructure and establish community centers that offer free public access in rural areas where broadband service is least likely to be available. Each of these programs helps meet President Obama's objective to grow the economy by out-building and out-educating our nation's competitors.
The American Association of Community Colleges is a non-profit organization representing almost 1,200 two-year, associate degree-granting institutions and more than 11 million students. It was founded in 1920 for charitable and educational purposes to support the nation's community colleges. AACC is the second organization representing community colleges to sign this MOU. Last month the Rural Community College Association, a non-profit organization that helps colleges partner with their communities to improve education access and local economic conditions, signed the agreement with USDA.