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Here’s What We Can Do About a Rural Opportunity Gap in California

A recent article in the New York Times highlighted just how much rural school districts across the country are struggling, and how little support they have.  

“Nationwide, more than 9.3 million children — nearly a fifth of the country’s public-school students — attend a rural school,” the article notes. “That’s more than attend the nation’s 85 largest school districts combined. And yet their plight has largely remained off the radars of policymakers. John White, the deputy assistant secretary for rural outreach at the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration, says that every time the nation or individual states roll out an education program, he searches for the word ‘rural.’ ‘You either find one or two words or none at all,’ he said.”

California is known as an urban state, but it’s a very large state — and according to the University of California, some 1.6 million Californians live in rural areas. While rural regions are doing well in high school — with 84% graduating compared to the 77% for the rest of the state — they are struggling much more with college. Only 17% of California’s rural population, the UC says, has a college degree. Likewise only 53% of rural residents are in the labor force, compared to 62% statewide.

A fully equitable economic recovery means offering education and job opportunities to Californians wherever they live. Advances in technology have made it possible to more effectively offer key services to these areas, and as California’s first statewide community college, Calbright is positioned to continue to offer support to rural Californians who may have fallen through the cracks. 

Part of this support means helping overcome the digital divide: Calbright’s “lending library” includes free laptops and wifi hotspots for any student who needs them, which is especially important in areas where high-speed internet can be difficult to access.   

Calbright teaches Californians the skills needed to fill high-quality jobs and actively engages with employers across the state to ensure our programs reflect their needs and plans for the future. There’s a tremendous opportunity here - in every part of this state - and our career counselors can provide students in rural areas the tools and expertise they need to be competitive applicants for high quality remote and in-person positions. Rural doesn’t mean removed from job centers, and California’s recovery post-pandemic must include helping rural communities plug into the emerging economy.