Building Rural Innovation, Designing Educational Strategies (BRIDGES) & The Rural College Practitioner Design & Data Academies


BRIDGES (Building Rural Innovation, Designing Educational Strategies) is a 3-year initiative launched in 2020 by the Education Design Lab. The initiative focuses on strengthening the capacity of rural community colleges to serve as critical economic growth engines for their learners and communities.

Five community colleges have participated in BRIDGES. Each college engaged in a human-centered design process with the Education Design Lab to design and pilot innovative pathways, community partnerships, and learner-focused support services. A summary of each college’s insights and experiences are available at the following links:

Since 2020, various approaches emerged through the work of colleges in the BRIDGES project that offer the potential for further expansion. The Education Design Lab, therefore, is building on BRIDGES to provide an 18-month initiative, the Rural College Practitioner Design and Data Academies. The Academies enable a cohort of rural colleges to learn the Lab’s human-centered design process and apply those learnings to the design of prototypes and pilots that build upon the BRIDGES Rural design project. Each college may receive a $50,000 incentive grant for pilot implementation and sustainability.

The Academies extend from February 2024 to August 2025:

  • Supporting deeper learning of rural education and workforce issues that emerged from BRIDGES colleges.
  • Developing prototypes that address critical components of rural college transformation.
  • Participation in the Lab’s Data Collaborative for a Skills-Based Economy (also called Data Collab) to collect and analyze efficacy data for noncredit/alternative programs.
  • Building narratives of rural learners and communities to help increase and sustain investments in rural higher education.

Academy activities include peer mentoring and coaching, individual data coach, multiple Lab designers, access to rural community of practice spaces, and the Lab’s communication team.

Colleges were invited through a Request for Proposals to rank their interest in exploring five areas of work in their application to participate in the new program (applications were due in January 2024):

  • Earn + Learn Models—Efforts to include employer engagement and curriculum development focused on the combination of classroom instruction and paid work experience that allows learners to gain valuable skills while simultaneously earning a paycheck. 
  • Micro-communities + Place-Based Marketing Strategies—Efforts to include a deep dive into communities outside the home campus and focus on the creation of place-based programs and marketing strategies for communities which typically are disconnected from opportunities offered by the college. 
  • Community Ecosystem Alignment—Efforts to include building ecosystem maps to identify how community-based organizations, employers, and industries can work together, with the college, to better serve their communities. 
  • Rural Grow Your Own Pathways—Efforts to include developing a better understanding of the professional shortages in the rural service areas, and institutions working to create strategies and pilot programs to start locally in preparing the next generation of teachers and healthcare providers, and others.  
  • Data Culture + Capacity—Efforts to include creating a whole college data strategy to enable the college to participate in the Lab’s Data Capacity Academy, a program designed to help colleges develop stronger data capabilities and create a more inclusive data culture throughout their campus and community.

A cohort of 13 rural higher education institutions across 11 states are joining the Rural College Design and Data Academy include:

  • Shasta College, California
  • Allegany College of Maryland, Maryland
  • Coahoma Community College, Mississippi
  • Crowder College, Missouri
  • Northern Pennsylvania Regional College, Pennsylvania
  • Medical University of South Carolina + Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College, South Carolina
  • Motlow State Community College, Tennessee
  • Uintah Basin Technical College, Utah
  • Spokane Community College + Washington State University – Extension Ferry County, Washington
  • BridgeValley Community and Technical College, West Virginia
  • Northcentral Technical College, Wisconsin


Ascendium Education Group


BRIDGES Rural Design Insights, Part 1: Understanding the Potential of Rural Community College Learners

BRIDGES Rural Design Insights Part 2: Designing + Piloting a New Approach to Economic Agility in Rural Communities

Rural Revival: BRIDGES Rural College Transformation Insights

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