Eastern Oregon University receives money to help prepare rural students for college

A GRANDE — A program to help recruit and retain rural
students at Eastern Oregon University is getting a boost.

Oregon U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley announced
recently that roughly $1.2 million in grant money will go to Eastern to power a
new program called Achieving Careers for Rural Oregon Student Success, or
ACROSS. The program’s goal is to increase outreach to schools in the region and
provide courses that allow students to earn credits for high school and college
at the same time.

“Part of our case is, we’re ‘Oregon’s Rural University,’
this is what we do,” Tim Seydel, Eastern’s vice president for university
advancement, said. “We’re primed to do this.”

Seydel said the ACROSS program ideally could save students
up to a full year of tuition and get students into the workforce sooner.

“It’ll expedite their college completion because they would
be able to come in as, essentially, a sophomore if they do it all,” he said.
“And that can fast track them into career pathways within the workforce.”

Kathleen Brown, Eastern’s associate director of early
college initiatives, told Oregon Public Broadcasting the funding will help the
university hire two college engagement specialists to support the ACROSS
program as it gets off the ground. Brown said she and the new hires will be
able to travel to schools throughout the region to meet students in person and
talk to them about EOU.

“We have some obvious places where we get students. We get
people from Pendleton. We get people from La Grande High. We get people from
Baker,” Brown said. “But there are some small schools where they’ve reached out
to us, so, let’s go out there.”

EOU will begin implementing the program in October, when it
can officially access the grant money. But Brown told OPB that the university
is starting to do some work in the meantime.

Part of preparing the ACROSS program will be beefing up what
Brown called “pre-college success courses.” She said that means increasing both
online and in-person dual-credit offerings for rural high school students.

Brown said the idea is to provide offerings to help students
“not just take random dual credits but be able to really focus and see what
they can do so they can be successful here.” But Brown said EOU is still in the
process of mapping out what exactly those offerings will be.

“Different things such as econ or music or whatever the
major is — grab one or two of their really dynamic classes and be able to allow
students to take those here or online,” Brown said. “You always have classes
that have a few extra spots in them, so why don’t we allow our high school
students to go in those?”

High school students who pass classes through those dual
credit pathways would be able to apply the credits to a degree at EOU, Brown
said. And for students who enroll at EOU, a big focus will still be making sure
that students are acclimated to college and have the support they’re used to
coming from smaller communities.

“One of the things that we have is a bunch of students will
take these dual credits, but then they come to a university and it’s like,
‘Whoa, I don’t have the exact same supports that I had before because I had my
mom, and I had my dad, and I had my counselor and all my teachers,’” Brown

At EOU, Brown said, there’s a recognition that rural
students are coming from tight-knit, small communities and might have different
experiences than students from larger cities.

“We want to just basically have this smooth transition from
all these loving people that have put an inordinate amount of time into you,
and this is going to be the next group of people that do the same thing,” she
said. “So, we want to be able to have that same feel, and I think that Eastern
is primed for that because we are a small institution and we have small

EOU President Tom Insko said the grant funding will help the
school fulfill its mission.

“EOU’s work as Oregon’s Rural University will be greatly
enhanced through this grant,” he said. “Our strategic goal is to intensify
rural student recruitment and outreach, and providing access and support for
educational and career pathways will help build and sustain our communities. We
are grateful for the support of Oregon’s U.S. senators.”