Frank: CSU’s investment in rural Colorado
Over the past year and a half, Colorado’s rural communities have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, as well as by drought, fires, the pullout of extraction industries from some communities and other challenges such as lack of access to reliable internet service. These communities are resilient and strong — and together, we can optimize that strength and the potential of these communities for future generations.
The Board of Governors of the CSU System this summer made an unprecedented decision to invest $8.58 million over the next three years in expanded support for rural Colorado students and communities. With this new investment, we will be providing additional scholarship and financial support for 4-H students and alumni from rural areas, with a goal of increasing rural student enrollment by 40% and closing graduation gaps.
We’ll also be working on creating a new Extension model focused on the needs of older adults, sort of a 4-H for senior Coloradans. We’ll be focused on supporting a concrete set of efforts to improve health, promote vibrant communities and a thriving rural economy for Colorado.
Higher education’s highest responsibility is to educate our students, but land-grant universities also have — as part of their statutory mission — a commitment to serve the whole state with research, engagement and access to opportunities for learning. CSU has always treated that mission as a high calling, and this action by our board enables us to move needed programs and opportunities ahead much more rapidly at a time when the need is particularly great.
At all of our CSU System campuses, our goal is to ensure that any student — every student in Colorado with the desire for a college education — has that chance. This can be at a large research university. It can be at a smaller regional comprehensive university with diversity that exceeds that of the population of our state. It can be at a fully online university, even if you’re not college age and are working and raising your own family. Our campuses all share the same foundational goal: open doors to human improvement.
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And while this goal hasn’t wavered, time has clearly broadened who we serve and how we do it. As a school founded and forever committed to be Colorado’s agricultural campus, CSU now faces the reality that the urbanization of our nation has resulted in the majority of students coming from the Front Range and areas near a metropolitan center.
In Lincoln’s day, the children coming out of rural America were nearly 100% new to the concept of a college education, and we recognized the need to support them differently — in that case, with a new system of universities. Over time, we expanded that approach of special support to help many others new to the college experience — veterans on the GI Bill and first-generation students being prime examples.
But while we did so, challenges also remained in rural America, and these have grown in recent years. Today, a lot of kids in smaller, rural areas around our state are again struggling to see themselves at their own state university, which is now in many cases larger than the towns in which they were raised.
And those towns’ connection to Colorado’s land-grant university — which runs the county 4-H programs, manages the state Forest Service, operates research stations in all corners of the state to support the needs of the agricultural community, and ensures there are extension staff serving every Colorado county — has also changed.
The concept of having an extension agent who serves as a multidisciplinary expert in a community is our commitment and starting point — and those positions traditionally tended to be farm- and ranch-oriented. But the specialization and sophistication of large-scale agriculture that feeds our world demands expertise beyond the scope of this traditional system. And the needs of rural communities have also expanded beyond agricultural production.
So extension has shifted to a model of partnership with county commissioners, where local needs — defined by the local community — can be paired with the appropriate parts of a large, modern research university. In this way, the evolution of CSU Extension has allowed it to become an important voice for the needs of communities, whether urban or rural.
As a land grant university, our mission is truly to serve the entire state. So even as we improve our connections to underserved urban communities, we remain firmly committed to understanding and expanding opportunities for service within the communities we were originally born to serve a century and a half ago. This latest investment by the CSU System is a testament to that commitment. To learn more about what’s planned and why, visit https://engagement.colostate.edu/reach-partnerships/expanding-rural-engagement/
Dr. Tony Frank is the former president of Colorado State University in Fort Collins. He has served as a chancellor of the CSU System since February 2015.