Dr. Cecilia Orphan, assistant professor with the Morgridge College of Education, and the newly established Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges (ARRC), for which Cecilia is a director, published a research report titled “Strengthening Rural Anchor Institutions: Federal Policy Solutions for Rural Public Colleges.” Funded by a $101,536 grant from the Joyce Foundation, the report examines the impact of COVID-19 on 118 different rural public colleges and their communities.
The report highlights the importance of public colleges in rural communities, while also demonstrating how COVID-19 threatens their contributions without support from policymakers. “Rural public colleges are the exact opposite of ivory towers,” said Dr. Orphan “They are totally enmeshed in the lives of their rural communities. The accessibility and embeddedness is what makes rural public colleges the economic engine of their regions and exactly why our national policy response to COVID-19 must prioritize these institutions.” This group of 118 rural public colleges help foster broader access to postsecondary education, support local economies, address critical workforce shortages, and contribute to public health infrastructure. Despite their crucial role in the community, these institutions are often underfunded, and may need additional financial support to serve their communities through COVID and beyond. Work like Dr. Orphan’s is essential in ensuring that can happen.
ARRC also recently received a $423,400 grant from the Ascendium Education Group to lead a follow-up research study, for which Dr. Orphan is a co-PI. This study will take the form of a year-long investigation and multi-stakeholder engagement strategy to design a Rural Serving Institution designation for rural public colleges and universities, similar to that of Minority Serving Institutions. The team hopes to engage with policy leaders, rural public college leaders, and scholars to help publish further reports, build data sets and advocate for regional colleges.