Top USDA officials today met with community college presidents from across the country to discuss ways they can work together to support and strengthen rural community colleges.
“Education is one of the most important components of rural economic development,” USDA Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Doug O’Brien said. “Rural community colleges play a vital role in educating students, and USDA is here to support these institutions. Having a high-skilled workforce helps communities grow and thrive.”
The college presidents and board members are part of the Rural Community College Alliance (RCCA). While in Washington for the group’s annual meeting, they also met with officials at other government agencies, such as the Departments of Education and Labor, and the Small Business Administration. O’Brien spoke late last month at the American Association of Community Colleges’ annual Workforce Development Institute conference about the important ways USDA and community colleges can help support the rural economy.
USDA has an extensive history of support for rural community colleges. USDA Rural Development invested more than $1 billion in community colleges from 2009 to 2012.
In March 2012, the agency signed a memorandum of understanding with RCCA to strengthen the rural economy by increasing rural residents’ access to skills training and higher education.
These efforts complement the department’s support for all types of educational activities. Secretary Vilsack launched an initiative in 2010 to pledge more than $100 million to build and renovate rural libraries. Part of the funds were provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
USDA Rural Development recently joined a pilot project with RCCA and the Natural Resources Conservation Service to provide opportunities for rural community colleges to help monitor and improve soil quality. The Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watershed Initiative is being piloted in Arkansas, Illinois ,Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri and Tennessee.
President Obama’s plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President’s leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America's economy, small towns and rural communities. USDA's investments in rural communities support the rural way of life that stands as the backbone of our American values. President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack are committed to a smarter use of Federal resources to foster sustainable economic prosperity and ensure the government is a strong partner for businesses, entrepreneurs and working families in rural communities.
USDA, through its Rural Development mission area, has an active portfolio of more than $176 billion in loans and loan guarantees. These programs are designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers and improve the quality of life in rural America. More information about USDA Rural Development can be found at www.rd.usda.gov.