Opinion: Rural education
This week, I joined United States Education Secretary Arne Duncan for a summit with leaders from across the country to talk about education in rural America.
I cannot overstate the importance of getting a good education. It is at the core of all efforts to promote economic development in rural America.
Over the past two years, USDA has worked to put in place the foundation of strong economic growth in rural America. Our investments in broadband internet and other critical infrastructure are helping businesses expand, innovate and create jobs. And increased production of renewable energy — especially biofuels — should generate real economic growth in communities across the nation.
But we won't succeed there if our workers aren’t prepared to out-compete the rest of the world.
A well-educated work force is critical to a thriving business — to developing new ways of producing goods and providing services. And companies don’t want to locate in rural communities if they can’t guarantee workers with the skills they need.
In fact, research shows that communities with more college graduates see higher income growth rates and lower unemployment.
While K-12 education is critically important — and rural America succeeds in graduating nearly three of four of their children from high school — a college degree or other post-high school education is becoming more essential to ensure a good career in the long term. The average lifetime income of someone with a bachelor’s degree is $3.4 million — more than double that of a person with only a high school diploma. And in this area, rural America lags behind the rest of the nation.
President Obama set an ambitious goal for the United States to once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by the end of the decade.
And to get us there, the administration is committed to helping rural youth pursue a degree beyond a high school diploma. Whether that is a two- or four-year college or a certificate from a trade school, we are helping prepare today’s students for success after high school and helping make college affordable for them.
We are investing in community colleges and have increased the size of Pell Grants that help nearly 10 million students attend college each year. And we are helping turn around low-performing rural schools so they can recruit and retain the best teachers.
USDA is focused on connecting rural schools to broadband Internet and distance-learning opportunities so that rural students have all the tools they need to succeed. And we are working to encourage new industries and businesses in small towns so there are opportunities for them when they graduate.
As more and more rural students realize their goal of a college or post-high school degree, the nation will have the workforce it needs to out-compete the rest of the world. And we will build rural economies with good jobs ready for the future, and communities where folks want live, work and raise their families.