The Rural Tech Project was a $600,000 challenge to advance rural technology education and prepare students for the careers of today and tomorrow.

The need

No matter where they want to work or what they want to do, today’s high school students will need advanced technology skills. Yet traditional teaching models may not effectively deliver transferable technology skills, especially in rural communities. One-third of American schools are located in rural areas, and every community is different. Rural schools need opportunities and support to design programs based on what they know will work best for their students.

The opportunity

The Rural Tech Project empowered educators with resources to create technology education programs that are customized for their students and local needs. This open innovation challenge used flexible delivery methods, including distance and blended learning, as well as competency-based education — a learning approach enabling students to master skills at their own pace — to provide high school students with advanced technology skills. By advancing technology skills development, rural communities can help their students prepare for rewarding career opportunities.

The U.S. Department of Education invited high schools and local educational agencies to propose technology education programs that use competency-based distance learning.

Phase 1: Open submissions

Phase 1 of the Rural Tech Project was open to any publicly-funded school or local education agency (LEA) that delivers education to a rural community and to students in grades 9-12. Eligible entrants were invited to submit proposals for a competency-based distance learning program that described the delivery model, curriculum topics, and intended connections with local employers and other partners. For more information on building submissions, entrants were invited to watch the informational webinar. When developing program proposals, entrants were encouraged to collaborate with the communities they serve.

All entrant schools and LEAs are acknowledged on the Rural Tech Project website, and received access to custom professional development resources after the close of submissions.

The judging panel recommended five finalist teams to each receive an equal share of the $500,000 prize pool and progress to Phase 2.

Phase 2: Community implementation

From January to July 2021, finalist teams developed detailed program plans and built partnerships before programs launched. They had access to virtual resources and on-the-ground assistance as they planned, ran, and refined their programs for two academic years.

During summer 2023, finalists documented their outcomes and learnings in their final submissions. At the close of Phase 2, the judging panel recommended Woodlake High School to win the grand prize of $100,000.

The Rural Tech Project compiled insights from all finalist teams and shared lessons learned as a resource for other communities; other schools can adapt these models to create technology education programs that increase access to careers across industries. Download the builders to see lessons learned and resources from finalist teams.

See lessons learned and resources from the Rural Tech Project teams.

See lessons learned and resources from the Rural Tech Project teams.