LA GRANDE — A program designed to help recruit and retain rural students at Eastern Oregon University is getting a boost.
Oregon U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley announced last week that roughly $1.2 million in grant money will go to Eastern to power a new program called Achieving Careers for Rural Oregon Student Success, or ACROSS. The program’s goal is to increase outreach to schools in the region and provide courses that allow students to earn credits for high school and college at the same time.
“Part of our case is, we’re Oregon’s rural university, this is what we do,” Tim Seydel, Eastern’s vice president of university advancement. “We’re primed to do this.”
Seydel said ideally, the ACROSS program could save students up to a full year of tuition and get students into the workforce quicker.
“It’ll expedite their college completion because they would be able to come in as, essentially, a sophomore if they do it all,” he said. “And then that, of course, that means that can fast track them into career pathways within the workforce.”
Kathleen Brown, EOU’s associate director of early college initiatives, told Oregon Public Broadcasting that the funding will help the university hire two college engagement specialists to support the ACROSS program as it gets off the ground. Brown said she and the new hires will be able to travel to schools throughout the region to meet students in person and talk to them about EOU.
“We have some obvious places where we get students. We get people from Pendleton. We get people from La Grande High. We get people from Baker,” Brown said. “But there are some small schools where they’ve reached out to us, so, let’s go out there.”
EOU will begin implementing the program in October, when it can officially access the grant money. But Brown told OPB that the university is already starting to do some work in the meantime.
Part of preparing for the ACROSS program will be beefing up what Brown calls “pre-college success courses.” She said that means increasing both online and in-person dual-credit offerings for rural high school students.
Brown said the idea is to provide offerings to help students “not just take random dual credits but be able to really focus and see what they can do so they can be successful here.” But Brown said EOU is still in the process of mapping out what exactly those offerings will be.
“Different things such as like econ or music or whatever the major is — grab one or two of their really dynamic classes and be able to allow students to take those here or online,” Brown said. “You always have classes that have a few extra spots in them, so why don’t we allow our high school students to go in those?”
High school students who pass classes through those dual credit pathways could enter EOU with enough credits to be at sophomore standing, Brown said. And for students who enroll at EOU, a big focus will still be making sure that students are acclimated to college and have the support they’re used to coming from smaller communities.
“One of the things that we have is a bunch of students will go somewhere and it sounds great and they’re taking these dual credits, but then they come to a university and it’s like, ‘Whoa, I don’t have the exact same supports that I had before because I had my mom, and I had my dad, and I had my counselor and all my teachers,’” Brown said.
At EOU, Brown says, there’s a recognition that rural students are coming from tight-knit, small communities and might have different experiences than students from larger cities around the state.
“We want to just basically have this smooth transition from all these loving people that have put an inordinate amount of time into you, and this is going to be the next group of people that do the same thing,” she said. “So, we want to be able to have that same feel, and I think that Eastern is primed for that because we are a small institution and we have small classrooms.”
EOU President Tom Insko said the grant funding will help the school fulfill its mission.
“EOU’s work as Oregon’s Rural University will be greatly enhanced through this grant,” he said. “Our strategic goal is to intensify rural student recruitment and outreach, and providing access and support for educational and career pathways will help build and sustain our communities. We are grateful for the support of Oregon’s U.S. senators.”
— Oregon Public Broadcasting reporter Meerah Powell contributed to this report.
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