PCC Aiming to Empower Rural Students for Academic and Career Success

Ed and Joan Warren Building at sunset.

WINTERVILLE—The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has awarded a $1 million-grant to Pitt Community College as part of a national effort to boost college enrollment and completion rates among students in rural areas.

Last month, ED announced it had presented a total of $44.5 million to 22 of the nation’s higher education institutions through its Rural Postsecondary & Economic Development (RPED) Grant Program. PCC was one of only eight community colleges to receive an award and one of two in North Carolina, along with McDowell Technical Community College in Marion.

Pitt’s grant, according to PCC Grants Management Director Jamie Mitchell, provides 100% of the funding the college needed to power an innovative project aimed at transforming the postsecondary landscape for rural students in Pitt County and surrounding areas. Mitchell says the effort will reach more than 2,000 rural middle and high school students annually.

“PCC’s RPED program recognizes that a clear career goal, coupled with a strategic academic plan, is pivotal for student success,” she said. “… The aim is to equip students with essential college readiness strategies.”

To achieve that goal, a portion of the grant funding will be used to expand a current PCC initiative by adding a third “career coach” to serve students at D.H. Conley and Ayden-Grifton high schools. The coach will offer program participants grade-specific curriculum information, degree, diploma and certificate details, and pathway progression checklists tailored to meet their unique needs.

PCC President Lawrence Rouse says the college’s RPED program will also employ an academic coach to provide academic counseling and connect participants with the wraparound support services they need for success on and off campus.

“Understanding the importance of holistic development, our RPED program focuses on building self-confidence, perseverance, critical thinking skills and self-responsibility essential for long-term success,” Rouse said. “It’s part of our commitment to empowering rural students for success by providing them with the tools and support they need to complete their academic and career journeys.”

According to ED, only 29% of individuals between ages 18 and 24 in rural communities are enrolled in higher education, compared to almost half (48%) of their counterparts in urban areas and 42% in suburban areas. The department noted in a news release that students in rural areas face challenges with reliable transportation, high-speed internet, food and housing, as well as challenges of paying for college and more.

The RPED Program promotes the development of high-quality career pathways aligned to high-skill, high-wage and in-demand industry sectors and occupations in the region. The funding also supports ED’s efforts to help more students transition from two-year to four-year institutions. Mitchell said PCC and other RPED grant applicants were encouraged to provide programs and implement strategies that support community college students’ transition to a four-year institution and that includes partnerships that support career pathways for students.