An increasing number of jobs across Missouri require some level of training or education beyond high school, but rural students are less likely than their urban or suburban peers to enroll in and finish college.
The rootEd Alliance wants to change it, by bringing career counselors into school districts to complement the work guidance counselors are already doing. They can focus on students’ opportunities after graduation, from a work credential or bachelor’s degree to the military.
Hal Higdon, chancellor of Ozarks Technical Community College, a rootEd partner, said it is expanding from having advisers in just eight schools to 135 across the state.
“A lot of our rural students are first-generation, so they don’t have mom and/or dad who’ve already been through the process of college; it can seem very daunting,” Higdon pointed out. “What we see is students with no plans have plans, students with plans even come up with better plans. And then, a good number also go into the military.”
Higdon added that college-going rates increased at every school partnering with rootEd. National college enrollment numbers were down in 2021 from pre-pandemic levels but went up by 7% at schools with a rootEd adviser.
Noa Meyer, president of the rootEd Alliance, noted that the statewide expansion will serve 15,000 students or more. She explained that learning what’s out there, filling out financial aid forms, and identifying the right fit requires time and expertise.
“Guidance counselors are doing tremendous work, helping students on such a wide array of issues they’re confronted with,” Meyer asserted. “And as a result, they don’t have as much time to help students with the plans that they need to develop for life after high school.”
Higdon emphasized that Missouri is facing real workforce shortages across industries, and argued the time is now for high school graduates to build skills to get good-paying jobs in their communities.
“The need for skilled workers, from Allied Health to plumbing, to HVAC, to carpentry, to advanced manufacturing, it’s all there,” Higdon outlined. “And those students in rural areas make fantastic employees, so we’ve got to get them plugged into the workforce of not only Missouri but of every state.”