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Exploring Rural Matters

Education NC’s CEO Mebane Rash examines rural NC through a wide-ranging variety of lenses, maps and questions in Rural Matters.

Over the past months Rash and her colleagues convened a number of thought leaders from across the political and economic spectrum to begin to examine numerous questions that may disproportionately impact adolescents in rural NC.

We think North Carolina needs to move away from one-size-fits-all solutions and move towards political, policy, and philanthropic strategies that take into account the very different needs of urban areas, suburban areas, rural counties with a metro hub, clusters of similarly-situated rural counties, and rural counties with no urban cluster.

Where are our jobs? What are our jobs? Which counties have educational disparities? Where are our best schools? What is the impact of school choice? Which counties have health disparities? How does the aging of our population impact rural counties? And does it matter if the county is red, blue, or purple politically?

Her conversation with former US Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, who spoke in Raleigh in early February, led Glickman to observe this is an issue about people. Rural or uban, we have the same dreams, same hopes, same desires. We are not fundamentally different. But the challenge is how to get people to talk about common issues. The rhetoric is not there. That is what we need to grow together. 

In addition to a different kind of collective discourse, we need to think differently about the kinds of jobs that will revitalize rural NC.  Sam Houston, the president and CEO of the North Carolina Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Center weighs in:

We don’t want or need to ‘bring back’ jobs that have been lost. Those jobs are gone. We need new jobs for our 21st century workers.

“Rural Matters” offers a host of entry points to think about our complex state, looking at new industry, access to academic institutions, top employers, average income, making it clear that too often the differences in our counties are ignored or treated as one grand distinction between urban and rural.

Rash concludes with suggestions for framing a different discourse:

  • Think about clusters of counties instead of regions
  • Identify and invest in emerging rural leaders
  • Invest in rural convenings, fostering collaboration to develop local solutions
  • Invest in revisioning rural economics

For our part, the Initiative has a deep web of relationships in rural counties that grant us access to the conversation. We are happy to be diving further into these questions with Education NC and others determined to make sustained change across NC. Our work in Bertie County with the Hive House is just one place where the work has already begun.


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