Focusing on the Needs of Rural Students

ruralstudentsblog

Students Emilea Pitts, John Hall, Amy Brewer, and Braxton Eiserman showcase the technology they use at Sebastian Middle School, a rural school located in Breathitt County, Kentucky. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

The National PTA has designated June as the Month of the Rural Child, a time when parents and communities explore ways to become involved and support students in rural schools.

Otha Thornton, President of the National PTA has noted, “Nearly one in four high school students in rural areas won’t graduate. To help address the unique challenges rural schools face and ensure all students graduate and reach their full potential, it is essential that families are engaged and that strong partnerships are built between families, schools and communities.”

For one rural Kentucky school district, technology is helping to create strong partnerships between schools and the community, and federal GEAR UP funds are helping to make this possible. Alonzo Fugate, GEAR UP Academic Specialist for Breathitt County Schools in eastern Kentucky, works with students on a weekly news program using iPads purchased with GEAR UP funds.

“Many of our students do not have access to technology at home, so it is vital that they are able to use it effectively in the schools,” he said. The program, featured on the school website, serves as a source of pride for the students and teachers involved and provides an avenue for parent and community involvement.

Some students are even planning their career paths based on their experiences. Fourteen-year-old Brooke started working with the school news program when she was in fifth grade and has been interested in becoming a news reporter ever since. The iPads also are important to  other class projects. For example, Brooke and another student recently created an app called “Fashion SOS” for a science fair project, which blended their personal interests in the fashion industry with technology, resulting in a unique educational experience.

In the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, students in Breathitt County face the challenges of going to school in rural America: traveling longer distances to get to school, having limited access to technology at home, overcoming geographic isolation, and contending with limited financial and educational resources. Thanks to the introduction of technology in the classroom, students there are now provided with the tools that can help them graduate high school college-and-career ready.

In his recent remarks to the National PTA, Secretary Arne Duncan referenced nearby Leslie County High School in Hayden, Kentucky, as another model of success in rural education. In 2010, it was ranked 224 out of the state’s 230 high schools. Today, the school is ranked 16th in the state and graduates 99 percent of its students thanks to the extraordinary commitment from the leaders and educators who joined forces to turn things around.

“Every student – no matter where they come from, what zip code they live in, or challenges they face – deserves the opportunity to truly learn and succeed,” Secretary Duncan said. That statement rings true this June—during the Month of the Rural Child—and every day.

McKenzie Baecker is an intern in ED’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education and is a student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

Expanding Opportunity with Help from the FFA

FFA Students

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan meets with FFA students before the 2013 FFA National Convention in Louisville, KY last November. This week is National FFA Week.

Editor’s Note: In celebration of National FFA Week (Feb. 15-22), we asked McKenzie Baecker a former ED intern and current student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls to guest author this post.

Growing up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin and graduating high school with a class size of 40 makes it easy to assume that I didn’t have the opportunities or the quality education needed to succeed beyond the classroom. However, since joining the FFA (formerly known as the “Future Farmers of America”) as a seventh grader, a foundation was laid to open many possibilities for my future. The student organization helped me network with agricultural leaders, interact with students from across the country, and grow as an individual.

McKenzie Baecker

McKenzie Baecker a FFA member, former ED intern and current student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

In nine years of FFA membership, my agriculture teacher pushed me outside my comfort zone by encouraging me to compete in speaking contests and attend leadership conferences to meet new people. I served in leadership capacities and have given back to my community through a variety of service projects. It did not take me long to realize the positive impact that FFA can make on students and I found myself developing a passion for the organization and agricultural education. After experiencing all of this and watching the enthusiasm of other agriculture teachers, it felt natural for me to pursue my own career in agricultural education.

Along with my classroom/laboratory instruction and Supervised Agricultural Experience, FFA opened the door to the opportunities and quality education that many believe does not exist in a small, rural school. The combination of all three of these elements and dedicated agricultural education teachers, I left high school both college and career ready.

In 2010, I started college at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls as an agricultural education major and FFA came with me. While college has been filled with many wonderful experiences, one of the most valuable was this past fall when I had the opportunity to intern with the U.S. Department of Education (ED) in Washington, D.C. After receiving the offer, I traded my barn boots for heels and this small town girl hit the city. While working on rural education outreach efforts at ED, the puzzle piece I had of growing up in rural Wisconsin and graduating from a small school suddenly fit into a much larger picture. I was surrounded by talented individuals who were all working to ensure our nation’s students receive the quality education they deserve.

As I approach my final year of college, I am eagerly awaiting my turn to make a positive difference in the lives of students, whether that is teaching in a classroom, or working on educational issues at the government level. Agricultural education puts in students’ hands what they need today so they can be themselves tomorrow, and I am ready to play my part in that noble task. FFA has led me here and my desire to influence positive change in education is keeping me here.

McKenzie Baecker a former intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach and a senior at the University of Wisconsin-River Fall.

Rural Education is Being Rewritten

Duncan at speech

Secretary Arne Duncan gave remarks at the Rural Education National Forum, hosted by Battelle for Kids and the Ohio Department of Education.

One in five Americans live, work, and learn in rural communities. Yet rural places sometimes seem to play a far smaller role in conversations about improving education – a situation that must change, Secretary Arne Duncan said in a major address at the Rural Education National Forum on October 31 in Ohio.

Among “real and urgent” challenges to world-class rural education are shrinking tax bases, limited AP course access, and a lack of great special education, English-Language Learners (ELL), and STEM teachers.

But the Secretary also recognized the tremendous potential of rural communities to make transformational change and to achieve results.

“I reject the idea that rural districts are too isolated to pioneer innovation and propel powerful partnerships,” said Duncan to an audience of 350. “I reject the narrative that says rural America cannot provide a rich and rigorous curriculum, or compete for attention or funding.”

Duncan Shoots Hoops

During Duncan’s rural stops he took time to shoot hoops with students at Dunbar High School in Dayton, Ohio.

To promote local progress, the Department continues to make key investments in rural communities through its Race to the Top, School Improvement Grant, and Investing in Innovation (i3) competitions.

The Secretary provided several telling examples of rural communities that have made positive and powerful changes using federal dollars. With a $40 million Race to the Top District award, the Green River Educational Cooperative provided personalized learning to nearly 60,000 students in 22 rural districts. The Niswonger Foundation, based in Tennessee, and eMINTS, in Missouri, used i3 as a catalyst to expand high-quality professional development for teachers and to increase access to college-credit courses for rural high school students.

“Our progress over the last four years, and the outstanding examples of innovation and capacity-building that I see here today, tells me that the narrative of rural education is being rewritten, even as we speak,” said Duncan.

The Rural Education National Forum was part of a two-day Department visit to rural communities, where the Secretary spoke to members of the FFA, participated in early learning forums, and visited with school and student leaders.

Read the Secretary’s speech to the Rural Education National Forum here.

Meredith Bajgier is a Public Affairs Specialist at the U.S. Department of Education

Cities Announced! 2013 Back-to-School Bus Tour

Bus Tour MapIt’s back-to-school time, which means that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and senior ED officials are hitting the road once again for the Department’s annual back-to-school bus tour. This year’s tour, themed Strong Start, Bright Future, will run September 9-13 and includes visits to states throughout the Southwest with stops in the following cities:

  • Santa, Fe, N.M.
  • Albuquerque, N.M.
  • Socorro, N.M.
  • El Paso, Texas
  • Columbus, N.M.
  • Tucson, Ariz.
  • Tempe, Ariz.
  • Phoenix
  • Scottsdale, Ariz.
  • Yuma, Ariz.
  • Chula Vista, Calif.

Each stop will highlight the importance of ensuring that all students benefit from high-quality educational opportunities, including Preschool for Allcollege affordabilityConnectEDfirst-term education efforts, and comprehensive immigration reform’s impact on education.

This is the fourth back-to-school bus tour for Secretary Duncan. Last year, the Department’s tour took us coast to coast, in 2011, the tour rolled through the Midwest, and in 2010, Duncan and his team visited the South and the Northeast.

Check back soon for additional information on the tour, or simply sign up to receive Strong Start, Bright Future tour updates in your email inbox.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

HealthIT is an Opportunity for Job Creation in Rural Communities

“Who else can provide healthcare in rural Mississippi besides these small rural hospitals? With so much responsibility and so few resources, they need all the help they can get,” said Jim Rice, RN, MBA, Health IT and Electronic Health Record Consultant at the Mississippi Health IT Regional Extension Center.

Mississippi WorkshopWe traveled to Mississippi recently to launch a pilot project between White House Rural Council partners from the Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, and Education to expand access to information and federal funding to support health information technology (HealthIT) infrastructure and workforce needs for Critical Access Hospitals (CAH) and other small rural hospitals The Mississippi pilot is part of a larger pilot initiative across five states.

Critical access and small, rural hospitals are often the foundations of their communities’ health care systems. They extend local access to care where it would not otherwise be available. Rural community hospitals also are typically the largest or second-largest employers in the community and often stand alone in their ability to offer highly skilled jobs.

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Green Schools Concept Taking Root in Rural Alabama

John White in Talladega

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach John White visited Munford Elementary in Talladega County, Ala. as part of the “Education Built to Last” tour of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools. Photo courtesy of Alabama Department of Education.

Last week, I traveled with Andrea Falken, director of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Program, to Talladega County public schools in the Appalachian Mountains of Alabama.

State Superintendent Tommy Bice, district staff, teachers, students and community leaders all turned out to show us why the green schools notion makes sense educationally and financially in rural areas during the first leg of the “Education Built to Last” tour of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools.

Teachers have engaged students in their own learning by connecting lessons to research and discovery in the mountains, forests and streams right outside their classroom windows. Facility improvements have saved millions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of kilowatts of electrical power, and turned school buildings into tools for learning.

Partnerships with the Forest Service, local farms and other businesses have increased students’ awareness of health and nutrition, their personal impacts on the environment, and career pathways in their local communities.

“That’s real world stuff,” said Talladega County school board member Johnny Ponder, while giving a tour of Munford Elementary, one of six U.S. Forest Service-adopted schools nationwide. Its interactive, museum-quality exhibits were produced with support from public and private sector partners. They include visual and audio information on birds, other wildlife and their habitats, fire prevention, jobs in the forest, and they are routinely used to enhance the school’s curriculum across all subject areas.

The 2013 ED-Green Ribbon Schools and District Sustainability Award winners were recognized for reducing their environmental impacts, including energy use, waste and water; creating healthy learning environments, fostering wellness practices, and providing effective environmental education that includes STEM, green careers, and civics to prepare students to succeed in the 21st century. The tour is a chance to share best practices by connecting schools to ED’s Green Strides resources. In the coming weeks, the tour will continue in New England, the Great Lakes and the West Coast.

“We want to get the word out about what works in these schools. It’s not because they are uniquely rich. They are resourceful, have great partnerships, and are using cutting-edge educational practices,” Falken said.

At Fayetteville High School in Sylacauga, Ala., students have used classroom computers to research environmental science before heading outdoors to construct and plant gardens, follow forest rangers into the marsh to test water quality and conduct other experiments with the forest service.

Like many rural schools, Winterboro High School in Alpine, Ala., is a hub of community activity. In fact, community members brought stone from the foothills in wagons pulled by mules to build the school in the 1930s. Recovery Act funds were used to purchase and install insulation in Winterboro High for the first time in 2009. Other facility improvements have led to Energy Star certification at Winterboro and 14 other Talladega County Schools for a district-wide energy cost avoidance of $4 million annually.

Today, Winterboro High is a modern 21st Century Community Learning Center that extends learning with a project-based curriculum that is infused with technology and links science, math and language arts with environmental education during the day and after school.

John White is deputy assistant secretary for rural outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Rural Teachers Turn to Tech to Support Teaching and Learning

Inside a classroom at Chantry Elementary School in the small town of Malvern, Iowa, four 1st grade students are gathered around a table facing Becky Curtis. She is teaching them to read.

It appears to be a traditional reading intervention class. However, they are not alone.

A state away in Omaha, Neb., Mrs. Patty Smith is observing the small group via WebEx software and a webcam on an open laptop sitting on a table behind the students. Occasionally Mrs. Smith speaks with Ms. Curtis through a small listening device. The technology is allowing Mrs. Smith to communicate, see and hear the students’ responses and their teacher’s instruction.

Children ReadingThey are part of Project READERS, a large-scale distance coaching study at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). UNL is using technology to connect trained coaches with more than 200 teachers in over 40 rural schools in eight states, where reading-support experts would not be available otherwise.

Ms. Curtis is a special education teacher who volunteered for the professional development project to improve her skills and serve as a reading intervention specialist.

As they begin to read a story together, the students are hanging on their teacher’s every word, using their fingers to point and decode letters, repeating words, blending sounds, and improving their phonemic awareness.

Ms. Curtis is working with precision, making sure her pupils can hear patterns and the rhythm of stressed and unstressed pieces of compound words. They identify and repeat the smallest units of sound.

When incorrect, the students and Ms. Curtis repeat and persist until the sounds are exactly right.

This rural education R&D, using a high-speed broadband connection, appears less intrusive than traditional coaching with an additional teacher physically in the classroom. At no point is Ms. Curtis competing for her students’ attention.

UNL is investigating the effects of distance coaching using technology on rural teachers’ knowledge, practice and student outcomes. Early elementary school teachers also learn and apply methods for collecting and using data to make instructional decisions.

The large-scale study is part of work conducted at UNL’s National Center for Research on Rural Education (R2Ed), which is funded by a five-year grant from the Institute for Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education.

Near the end of class, Ms. Curtis bursts into laughter, unable to contain the private conversation she is having with Mrs. Smith about her students and their responses to her instruction.

The children immediately log-in, asking “What did she say? What did she say?” With a smile on her face, Ms. Curtis removes her hand from her mouth to tell her students, “She said I was awesome you guys!”

There are high-fives all around as Ms. Curtis tells her students how well they were reading. Before class ends, Ms. Curtis unplugs her ear-bud from the laptop and asks the students to turn to face Mrs. Smith for a quick debrief conversation.

Their time is up and class ends for the day. As the children run from the room, it is obvious their secret is out.

From Omaha to Malvern they’re all learning together.

John White is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education

Building Better Futures with Education

Karley Holland of YouthBuild

Karley Holland, from Rogue Valley YouthBuild in Medford, Ore., is a passionate advocate for individual freedoms and wants to affect positive change in her community.

When Kim Phinney, senior director of YouthBuild USA’s rural and tribal development program invited me to attend AmeriCorps’ Conference of Young Leaders, I knew the participants’ stories would be more inspirational than anything we could say to the young people being honored.

Thirty of 115 Youth Build members, who came to Washington DC recently from urban, suburban and rural areas, were in town for the Council of Young Leaders elections. They shared stories of the challenges in their lives, including teen pregnancy, domestic violence, incarceration, drug abuse and abandonment. But they made no excuses.

Instead, they emphasized their current paths to an education and a better life. They described how they want to “pay it forward,” and help other young people stay in school and overcome many of the same challenges.

In YouthBuild, they found a second chance — in some cases multiple chances — to obtain an education, acquire marketable skills, chart a new direction to employment, and become leaders in their communities. (YouthBuild receives federal funding from the Department of Labor and has partnered with the Department of Education to give youth a voice in decisions being made related to their education.)

With the support of North Central West Virginia YouthBuild, Caleb Gartman will earn his high school diploma this spring. He wants to start his pursue of a college degree in music this fall.

Karley Holland, from Rogue Valley YouthBuild in Medford, Ore., is a passionate advocate for individual freedoms and wants to affect positive change in her community. She has earned certificates in CPR and Occupational Safety and Health, and is on track to earn her GED this spring. She plans to start college or work full time this fall.

“Life happens,” one of the students said, and with education as a foundation, Caleb, Karley and their peers are headed in a new direction with plans to affect positive change in their lives and in their communities.

Nationally, more than six million 16-to-24-year-olds are disconnected from school or work, about half of whom are high school dropouts. The average person employed without finishing high school earn an average of $20,241, more than $10,000 less than a high school graduate according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The consequences of dropping out of high school can often result in a lifetime in poverty and dropouts make up approximately half of the country’s prison population.

Disadvantaged 16-24 year olds in YouthBuild programs work full-time for six to 24 months toward their GEDs or high school diplomas, while learning job skills by building affordable housing in their communities. Emphasis is placed on leadership development, community service, and the creation of a positive network of adults and youth committed to each other’s success. At exit, they are placed in college, jobs, or both.

Many of the young people in this year’s class also have acquired a sense of civic duty and expressed a desire to assume leadership roles in the organization that gave them a second chance to achieve their dreams.

They are living proof of the power of education to change lives and break cycles of crime and poverty.

 John White is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education

CTE Can Fill The Gap, Open Doors to America’s Future

CTE panel at ED

An educator asks a question during “How Career and Technical Education is Addressing the Nation’s Skills Gap,” a recent ED Policy Briefing. Official Department of Education Photo by Joshua Hoover.

Brian Will was inspired to investigate careers in family and consumer sciences in seventh grade. Today the Deep Run High School student is a consultant to the FCCLA Virginia state association and on track to pursue college and the career path of his choice.

Alvon Brown found inspiration in the mechanical processes of working with his hands in an HVAC career and technical education program, and is now eager to pursue engineering after graduating from The Edison Academy at Edison High School.

Brian and Alvon’s stories are just two of many that illustrate the impact of early career and technical education awareness. Many similar stories were told about how career and technical education is addressing the nation’s skills gap at a recent ED Policy Briefing to celebration National CTE Month at the U.S. Department of Education.

“The students were spectacular,” Assistant Secretary of Vocational and Adult Education Brenda Dann-Messier said of the panelists at the briefing. “They were poised, articulate, self-confident and spoke eloquently about their CTE experiences and how well prepared they are for college and to pursue the career of their choice.” Also joining Brown and Will on the panel were Natalie Tran, the Future Business Leaders of America chapter president at River Hill High School, and David Kelly, the national president of the Health Occupations Students Association (HOSA) and an undergraduate at New York University. CTE Panel

Dann-Messier and Senior Advisor on College Access Greg Darnieder hosted a pair of conversations – one with educators and business leaders, and a second with Career and Technical Student Organization (CTSO) participants. Both conversations focused attention on the need for better alignment between high-quality CTE programs and the labor market, more collaboration among industry, secondary and postsecondary education partners, accountability for improving academic outcomes, and the need to support innovation.

Employers are seeking people with the skills to fill more than three million job vacancies each month. Whether you believe there is a skills gap or a training gap, early career awareness is an important part of the solution. Marie Zwickert, a business development manager for Cisco, emphasized the need to address the lack of technical and workforce readiness skills by raising standards and increasing participation in secondary and postsecondary CTE programs.

Last year, the Obama Administration proposed a blueprint for raising standards and transforming CTE nationally. High-quality CTE programs and Career Academies, like the Cisco Networking Academy, and CTSOs, teach employability skills that include working in effective teams, communications and problem solving, and help to increase students’ technical content knowledge and understanding.

Where rigor and expectations are high, CTE students display a sense of pride that attracts other students to the programs.  Students are earning industry-recognized credentials in a wide array of sectors, gaps between college and career readiness are closing, and doors are opening for students to pursue today’s in-demand jobs and the careers of the future.

 John White is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education

Teachers Taking Action

Have we really been talking about the need to improve teacher recruitment and retention for decades?

Educators meeting in Indianapolis and video-conferencing in from throughout the nation for the 2013 National Agriculture Education Summit said yes, and that it’s time to do something about it.

State agriculture education directors, teachers, principals, and stakeholder groups recently spent two days sketching out action plans to address agriculture education teacher shortages in their states, and they were told to finish by the end of the month. That’s right. The time is now for action. Teachers Taking Action

They have joined the national Teach Ag campaign, which began two years ago as an initiative of the National Council for Agricultural Education. The campaign is led by the National Association of Agricultural Educators (NAAE), which found agriculture teacher shortages in 28 states during its annual survey.

Depending on the state, schools have difficulty finding qualified and effective agriculture teachers for high school programs that are vital to the agriculture industry, including:

  • Animal and Plant Science;
  • Crop Science;
  • Agriculture Mechanics;
  • Biotechnology; and other areas.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack welcomed the opportunity to work with the Teach Ag campaign, the National Association of Agricultural Educators, and all partners to recruit and retain the next generation of great teachers.

Our nation struggles with teacher shortages across many subjects and with developing teachers for students with special needs. However, the challenge of improving teacher recruitment and retention goes far beyond supply and demand.

As a nation, we must elevate the teaching profession and give teachers the respect they deserve if we are to solve this annual dilemma.

Research shows that the teacher is the single most important factor in a student’s academic success. For this reason, President Obama has requested Congressional approval for an unprecedented $5 billion to support states and districts willing to pursue bold reforms that can help better prepare, support and compensate ALL teachers in his Fiscal Year 2013 budget.

The Department of Education’s 2013 budget proposes a new 25-percent set-aside in Title II funds – $640 million – for state grants to create and expand high-performing pathways into teaching and school leadership, enhance the profession, and reduce shortages of teachers in science, technology, engineering and math – including agriculture.

If we are going to educate our way to a stronger economy, we must work with teachers, principals, colleges of education, and employers to strengthen teacher preparation. We must find mutually agreeable solutions to the thorny issues of evaluation and compensation.

And we must reengineer our most important profession to make teaching our most sought after profession. Why? Because we need the smartest, most talented people we can find teaching our students.

That’s how we will educate our way to a stronger economy and a more prosperous future.

John White is ED’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach.

National CTE Month Marks Pivotal Moment

This month, students, educators, stakeholder groups, and even regulators will highlight what works in career and technical education (CTE).

Welding ClassThe U.S. Department of Education has joined the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) to celebrate February as National CTE Month. Each organization has assembled a month-long schedule of activities that focus on outstanding programs. ED also will draw attention to the need to transform secondary and postsecondary programs that are no longer relevant in today’s marketplace.

The 2013 celebration marks a pivotal moment for CTE. This year, we all have a chance to work together to promote an increase in rigor and relevance and to support replication of programs that work. As a nation, we cannot continue to allow some youth and adults to be stuck in outdated vocational courses that do not prepare students for in-demand careers.

Which path the nation takes will be determined during the Fiscal Year 2013 budget process and whether Congress takes up reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Act, which provides federal support for secondary and 2-year postsecondary programs.

Last spring, the Obama Administration released a blueprint for transforming CTE. Through a $1 billion investment in CTE and an additional $1 billion career academies initiative, the Obama Administration’s 2013 budget proposes to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Act and support CTE in four key areas:

    • Alignment: Ensuring that the skills taught in CTE programs reflect the actual needs of the labor market so that CTE students acquire the 21st century skills necessary for in-demand occupations within high-growth industry sectors.
    • Collaboration: Incentivizing secondary schools, institutions of higher education, employers, and industry partners to work together to ensure that all CTE programs offer students high-quality learning opportunities.
    • Accountability: Requiring CTE programs to show, through common definitions and related performance measures, that they are improving academic outcomes and enabling students to build technical and job skills.
    • Innovation: Promoting systemic reform of state-level policies to support effective CTE implementation and innovation at the local level.

This month, we will join ACTE and several of their “CTE Works” events, as well as initiate additional conversations about the need for more high quality career training programs that lead to industry recognized credentials, and prepare students for postsecondary education and careers. We encourage you to check back often for upcoming events and activities.

Follow the conversation on Twitter using hashtag #CTEMonth, and share photos of students and teachers in action to illustrate great CTE programs on Twitter and Instagram.

John White is deputy assistant secretary for rural outreach at the U.S. Department of Education

White House Rural Council’s Health IT Initiative Helps Community Colleges Tailor Programs to Workforce Needs

By John White, Judy Murphy, and Thomas Morris

With a major workforce transition underway in many rural hospitals and health clinics, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) hosted a conference call with staff from nearly 80 rural community colleges recently to discuss federal resources available to expand training for health information technology workers.

Putting the I in Health IT LogoDeveloping an adequately trained health IT workforce in rural areas is imperative, and new programs are available to provide incentives for eligible health care providers and hospitals to adopt and meaningfully use electronic health records.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the health IT workforce will increase by 20 percent by the year 2016.  A significant part of that growth will come in rural areas, which are served by approximately 2,000 rural hospitals, 3,700 Rural Health Clinics and approximately 3,000 Community and Migrant Health Centers that are either located in or serve rural communities.

In small rural hospitals and clinics, health IT workers may have multiple roles and responsibilities. Community colleges will be the place where many employers and employees turn for training and re-training to implement and maintain these systems.

Activities and programs at agencies across the Federal government are designed to support and expand workforce training for health IT workers, including:

    • As members of the White House Rural Council, HHS and ED are working together to ensure that rural community colleges are aware of and have access to federal resources to create these high-skilled, in-demand career pathways.
    • In August 2011, President Obama announced a partnership between HHS and the U.S. Department of Agriculture – another member of the WH Rural Council – to make it easier for rural health care providers to purchase health IT and expand training of rural health IT  workers. HHS has also worked closely with the Departments of Labor and Education to support this initiative.
    • The HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) created a community college consortia to educate health IT professionals, which is a part of ONC’s Health IT Workforce Development Program. The program to date has trained over 13,000 health IT professionals – 10 percent are from rural areas.  All colleges in the consortia are offering distance learning to make the training available to students in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.
    • ONC funded five universities to develop a library of health IT training materials.  The materials are designed to be used by instructors to create a curriculum.  Community colleges, supported by ONC grants, have used this material to create curriculum for training students in six workforce roles.  These community colleges are a resource for other colleges interested in starting training programs.
    • Health IT training materials are available on the Department of Labor’s Virtual Career Network. The final version of the curriculum released under the original ONC Health Curriculum Development Centers Program grant is available for anyone to freely download from the National Training & Dissemination Center (NTDC) Web site.

Click here (doc) to review a transcript of the health IT call with rural community colleges.

John White is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education. Judy Murphy, RN, FACMI, FHIMSS, FAAN, is Deputy National Coordinator for Programs and Policy in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT and Tom Morris is Associate Administrator for Rural Health Policy at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.