New Study of Rural Education Programs Highlights Effective Practices to Support Academic Talent

Five students stand with arms over one another's shoulders on the MSU campus.

Jack Kent Cooke Foundation releases qualitative study of academic enrichment and college readiness programs in rural communities and announces $450,000 in new rural grants

LANSDOWNE, VA – The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation released a new report today highlighting high-quality practices that equip talented K-12 students in rural America to pursue and complete postsecondary education. Almost one in five school children — some nine million nationwide — live in rural areas. Rural schools often have far fewer resources than their suburban counterparts and receive far less national attention than urban schools. Today, rural students graduate from high school at high rates, but are less likely than their suburban counterparts to enroll in college immediately after graduation. This disconnect between K-12 and postsecondary achievement can disadvantage communities that often are struggling to attract and retain talent.

“If we want to create vibrant economies across the country, we cannot ignore the millions of academically-promising students living in America’s small towns and communities,” said Seppy Basili, executive director of the Cooke Foundation. “This report reveals the important lessons that can be learned from teachers, community members, and nonprofits who are engaged in important work to expand educational opportunities for rural school children.”

The report, “Small Town, Big Talent,” highlights practices and programs that are effectively supporting promising students in rural communities. It provides a series of recommendations in three key areas: identifying promising rural students; providing academic services to these students; and meeting their social and emotional needs. These recommendations are based on a comprehensive review of existing research and new insights from organizations working on-the-ground in rural areas.

“During my time as governor, we learned that deep involvement in local communities and robust wrap-around supports were critical to any educational effort in rural areas,” said Bev Perdue, former governor of North Carolina and author of the report’s foreword. “Even as global connections and new modes of teaching proliferate, place still matters. Leaders in states with large rural populations know this, but the Cooke Foundation is issuing an important challenge for national leaders and philanthropies to pay far more attention to this pressing need.”

The report grew out of the Foundation’s partnerships with six nonprofit grantees focused on developing rural talent. Extensive interviews were conducted with the directors of these organizations: Mississippi Public School Consortium for Educational Access; Gifted Education Resource Institute at Purdue University; Programs for Talented Youth at Vanderbilt University; Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development at University of Iowa; Valley Scholars Program at James Madison University; and YES Scholars, Appalachia.

As part of the Foundation’s Rural Talent Initiative grant program, which is designed to expand access to rigorous academic and enrichment programs for high-ability rural students, the Cooke Foundation announces the award of $450,000 in grants to three partners who have demonstrated success in serving students in rural communities. Grantees include:

  • James Madison University, Valley Scholars Program, highlighted in “Small Town, Big Talent,” has expanded access to dual enrollment courses and year-round educational enrichment for rural Virginia students who demonstrate academic promise. Access to dual enrollment courses gives students in schools without Advancement Placement courses or other college-level curricula an opportunity to take high-level courses during high school and prepare for success in college.
  • YES Scholars, Appalachia, also studied in the new report, identifies promising young students with financial need in western North Carolina, and provides a rigorous and supportive learning environment through weekly classes, Saturday and summer programs, and supplemental support to ensure students have the assistance and exposure needed to pursue postsecondary education.
  • University of Alaska Foundation, Rural Alaska Honors Institute (RAHI) is a statewide college preparatory summer bridge program for rural and Alaska Native high school students. High school juniors and seniors participate in a rigorous six-week program that includes taking eight to 11 credits of college-level courses in topics like algebra, chemistry, and science research. Students are also taught skills that will enable them to successfully make the transition from living in small, remote areas to larger communities and to navigate college life.


Read the full report: 

# # #

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is dedicated to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need. Since 2000, the Foundation has awarded over $200 million in scholarships to over 2,600 students from 8th grade through graduate school, along with comprehensive educational advising and other support services. The Foundation has also provided $110 million in grants to organizations that serve such students.

Media Contact: Amber Styles, 571-442-0772,

Photo header: Students spend two weeks in an intense, immersive summer program at Mississippi State University as part of the Mississippi Public School Consortium for Educational Access.