Editor’s note — August 27, 2020: This post was updated to include top questions and answers and the full Q&A summary from the information session.

Earlier this summer, the U.S. Department of Education launched the Rural Tech Project, a $600,000 challenge to advance rural technology education and prepare students for the careers of today and tomorrow. The Department invites high schools and local educational agencies to propose technology education programs that use competency-based distance learning. 

The Rural Tech Project recently hosted an information session to discuss this opportunity for rural communities to increase technology skills development. The challenge team shared how the Rural Tech Project will support educators in creating technology education programs and using flexible learning models. Watch the session recording and read on for answers to top questions.

See the video transcript and download the presentation.

The technology skills opportunity for rural communities

During the session, U.S. Department of Education Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education Scott Stump and Program Specialist Albert Palacios explored technology workforce opportunities and their vision for the challenge.

Scott Stump discussed how careers in technology will only continue to grow — the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the tech industry will add more than 500,000 new jobs over the next decade. He explained that many of the fastest-growing career opportunities will require mastery of rigorous computer science and information technology skills. Yet traditional teaching models may not effectively deliver transferable technology skills, especially in rural communities.  

The Rural Tech Project brings together what we have seen to be the key ingredients in making students in rural communities future-ready: competency-based education, distance learning, and technology education. Competency-based education supports the mastery of technology skills that employers need. Distance learning uniquely meets the needs of rural students by expanding access to high-quality, current technical education.”

Scott Stump, Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education, U.S. Department of Education

He also shared how the opportunity for students in rural communities to work in the technology sector has become more tangible recently. Even before the shift to remote work due to the coronavirus pandemic, the number of Americans working remotely increased 159% between 2005 and 2017. 

Albert Palacios elaborated on one of the key challenge objectives to support rural schools in designing technology education programs that are customized for their students and local needs.

“We want to inspire new solutions and innovations that will enable the students and educational systems in rural communities to craft programs that meet their unique needs. Rather than trying to come up with a new model for the entire country, we are looking for rural communities to tell us the best solutions for their communities.”

Albert Palacios, Program Specialist, U.S. Department of Education

Top questions asked and answered during the Q&A

During the Q&A portion of the information session, attendees submitted questions to the challenge team. See the top questions and answers below and review the full summary of questions.

Who can participate as a team member on a submission? For example, can a community college, university, nonprofit organization, for-profit entity, faith-based organization, or private school join a team?
As long as the entrant is a school or LEA that meets the criteria stated in the rules, terms, and, conditions section III “Eligibility,” entrants may choose the organizations or entities that it believes would be most effective in advancing its proposed project. Team members can be named in the “Team” section of the submission form.

Can schools or LEAs partner on a single submission?
Yes, multiple schools or LEAs can partner on a single submission; however, one eligible entity must be designated and submit the entry as the lead school or agency. This entity would receive any prize funds if selected as finalist and would be responsible for allocating those funds to the team.

Are there requirements around the number of students served or the reach of the program?
No. We anticipate diversity in geographic and student reach among entrants and finalists.

What is a Community Engagement Manager, and how is the Community Engagement Manager selected?
Entrants selected as finalists will each receive implementation support from a Community Engagement Manager (CEM). CEMs will support needs identified by entrants to ensure that finalists are able to plan, run, refine, and report on their proposed programs. The CEM will serve their school(s) for the duration of the project. In the submission form, entrants will be asked to recommend one or more candidates for the role. The challenge will allocate up to $100,000 per finalist (in addition to cash prizes) to cover costs associated with the CEM.

Not every rural community has strong broadband internet. How do we address this in our submission?
This challenge is asking solvers to assess the connectivity they currently have and plan accordingly. This means either creating programming within the connectivity available or planning to apply a portion of the cash prize to improve connectivity. The Rural Tech Project also encourages entrants to explore low-cost internet options available through government resources, such as the E-rate Program, or organizations providing discounted hardware and services to support connectivity.

If your question wasn’t addressed during the information session, please contact us at hello@ruraltechproject.com.

Rural Tech Project proposals are due October 8: Register for the challenge and start your submission.