Distance learning project links college, high schools


Dan Spatz
Executive Director, Institutional Advancement
dspatz@cgcc.edu, (541) 506-6034

December 5, 2019

High school students throughout the Mid-Columbia region will participate in real-time instruction with Columbia Gorge Community College faculty thanks to a $498,623 distance learning grant awarded by US Department of Agriculture Rural Development.

“Many rural students have to travel long distances to attend school,” said John Huffman, Oregon Director for USDA Rural Development. “This investment will give students the ability to access classes remotely, helping to improve their quality of life and starting them on the path toward a college degree.”

The college is contributing $79,115 for a total project value of $577,738. Classroom technology will foster expanded dual credit achievement in 13 high schools from The Dalles to Arlington, White Salmon to Spray, and Stevenson to Wishram. There will be special emphasis on career-technology and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) coursework. “Dual credit” refers to students’ opportunity to gain college credits while still in high school.

The grant is one of two awarded in Oregon, and one of only two in the nation involving multiple states. A total of at least 2,499 high school students will be served in the initial three-year roll-out. Willamina School District is the other Oregon recipient.

College faculty in The Dalles and Hood River will live-stream instruction via “Zoom rooms” established on The Dalles and Hood River campuses to specially-equipped classrooms at participating high schools on both sides of the Columbia River Gorge. Differing from many “on-line” classes that simply deliver coursework with no opportunity for interaction, these classes will be “synchronous,” meaning students can ask questions of faculty in real time, just as if they were on campus. The college will work with high school administrators to coordinate course scheduling. Students will be able to use the same remote classrooms to complete their homework on-line, since Internet access is often a barrier for rural residents.

Each remote site will receive dedicated computers, web cam and wall-mounted display monitor. The grant will also allow the college to upgrade its website to better support distance education, in the process taking advantage of a faster Internet connection established through assistance from Columbia

Gorge Education Service District (ESD). The ESD was one of many organizations, schools, counties and rural communities providing letters of support on behalf of the college’s proposal, which was submitted to USDA last spring.

The goal is to increase enrollment of rural, under-represented high school students in dual- credit courses, pursuing STEM/CTE certificates and degrees leading to family-wage jobs. “By expanding our capacity to offer dual credit through our partnering high schools, we expect this initiative to increase rural student enrollment, retention and graduation rates in STEM and career technology programs at CGCC,” said Dr. Marta Yera Cronin, college president.

The grant will also support a laptop lending program and create a mobile distance learning lab for use by Pre-College advisers. This aspect of the program is designed to reach adults of all ages seeking new career opportunities. Oregon Department of Human Services is partnering with the college for this outreach, which augments the college’s role as a workforce training provider with WorkSource Oregon through the East Cascades Workforce Investment Board.

The three-year program starts in January 2020 with planning and development, followed by roll- out to rural high schools in three phases.

The USDA grant is part of a $42.5 million investment by USDA is in 133 distance learning and telemedicine projects in 37 states and two U.S. territories. These investments will benefit 5.4 million rural residents.

The Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Program helps rural communities use the unique capabilities of telecommunication to overcome the effects of remoteness and link teachers and medical service providers in one area to students and patients in another. Most state and local government entities, federally-recognized tribes, nonprofits, and for-profit businesses are eligible to apply. Typically, one application period is offered each year.

USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing, community facilities such as schools, public safety, and healthcare facilities; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. Learn more at www.rd.usda.gov/or.