Rural America can yield a bumper crop of talent. So let’s cultivate it.
Adult Learners

Rural America can yield a bumper crop of talent. So let’s cultivate it.

Photo from the Fall 2019 issue of Focus Magazine: A dangerous divide: Rural students face a growing gap in college-level learning.

We’ve all heard the phrase “flyover country,” the dismissive term often used by coastal elites to describe the vast middle parts of the nation that they tend—or choose—to ignore. Those two words encapsulate a troubling view—the idea that the nation’s less populated areas are somehow less important or less valuable, that the people there can rightly be overlooked.

No idea could be more wrong—or more dangerous to America’s future. The fact is our rural areas are teeming with human potential. And if we are to prosper as a nation—economically, culturally, politically, socially—we must unlock that potential. We must, through high-quality education programs, fully develop the talent in our rural regions so that it can be unleashed to benefit us all.

Fortunately, many rural areas are taking steps in that direction. They’re working to redefine flyover country, to make it a national focal point for talent development. The current issue of Lumina’s Focus magazine examines that effort in a compelling way—from the perspective of real-life students in those rural regions.

For example, you’ll read about Kalyn Jones and Caitlin Davis-Rivers, young women from the vast expanse of far-northern California who overcame huge obstacles to earn their college degrees. Each of the women—now ages 25 and 23, respectively—grew up in a home with a drug-addicted parent and was placed in foster care. But thanks to a program offered by Shasta College, both completed their studies at Shasta and moved on to earn bachelor’s degrees at California State University-Chico.

You’ll read about Humberto Perez, a Mexican immigrant who spent his childhood in an impoverished south Texas town the media once dubbed “Calcutta on the Rio Grande.” Today, 23 years after his arrival there as a toddler, Perez is a college graduate. He works as an admissions counselor for Texas South College, helping other Latino students navigate the often-difficult path to an education.

And you’ll meet Amy Whittaker, 38, a work-release inmate in the Madison Correctional Facility in southern Indiana. Whittaker leaves the prison each weekday to work at a local manufacturing plant. As part of a program coordinated by Ivy Tech Community College, she’s already earned her certification as a production technician, and next year she expects to be certified in industrial maintenance.

All of these students—and many more whose stories we share—offer inspiring views from the front lines of rural America, putting a human face on an increasingly important national issue.

As you hear their stories, I’m sure you’ll come to the same realization I did: that students in rural America represent a vast and vital national resource—one we can’t afford to simply fly over.

Read more in the Fall 2019 issue of Focus Magazine: A dangerous divide: Rural students face a growing gap in college-level learning.

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