Athens State Receives $2 Million Grant to Increase Postsecondary Education Access to Students in Rural Areas

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Athens State University has been awarded a $2.2 million Department of Education Rural Postsecondary & Economic Development Grant (RPED) to improve rates of postsecondary education enrollment, persistence, and completion among students in rural communities. The RPED grant 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 Biden-Harris Administration awarded a total of $44.5 million in RPED grants to 22 institutions of higher education. Athens State was the only university to receive this grant in the state of Alabama. The University’s grant will run through the end of 2027 and will be used to leverage instructional technology, comprehensive wrap-around student support, and innovative educational outreach strategies to provide rural students with flexible and accessible learning opportunities to help them to succeed in postsecondary education and high-paying careers.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 29% of individuals between the ages of 18 and 24 are enrolled in higher education in America’s rural communities, compared to almost 48% of their counterparts in urban areas and 42% in suburban areas. In addition to navigating how to pay for college and the application process, students in rural areas face other barriers in accessing and completing college, including reliable transportation, food and housing insecurity, and access to health care and high-speed internet.

“With this generous grant from the U.S. Department of Education, we aim to bridge the educational gap for rural students by not only increasing exposure and recruitment efforts but also by offering comprehensive support services,” said Dr. Katherine Kandalec-Holm, Interim Dean of the College of Education. “Our focus on flexible course delivery, mental health, telehealth, and online tutoring reflects our dedication to the holistic success of every student. This funding will empower us to broaden our reach, enhance student support services, and create a more accessible and flexible learning environment.

This grant opens doors to a new era of education for rural students in Alabama. We believe in the transformative power of accessible education and are excited to implement flexible course designs and support services that cater to the unique needs of our students, fostering a community of learning that transcends traditional boundaries.”

“This grant will help us continue our legacy of providing engaging, flexible learning opportunities for students from rural communities,” said Dr. Lee Vartanian, Interim Provost & Vice President for Academic Affairs and Student Services. “I look forward to seeing the immediate impact this program will have on current and future students.”

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