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WTAMU receives grant to study rural education and economic opportunities


By Brittany Castillo

The Texas Panhandle has a new partner in its quest to understand the needs of its rural communities. Thanks to Greater Texas Foundation (GTF), West Texas A&M University and a consortium of regional stakeholders will embark on a research assessment aimed at improving education and economic issues facing rural communities in the Texas Panhandle.

West Texas A&M University was granted $299,367 from GTF to fund this research. Beginning in January 2018, WTAMU and its regional partners will work with FSG, a trusted consulting and research firm, to gather qualitative and quantitative data and perspectives about regional challenges related to higher education and economic opportunity. The goals of this project include enhanced understanding of the education and workforce landscape, creation of an improved platform for collaboration and communication, and a comprehensive strategic plan to address the identified issues and improve opportunities for rural communities.

“As the primary four-year institution of higher education serving the Panhandle for over 100 years, WT is uniquely positioned to take on the scope and magnitude of this project while maintaining autonomy, objectivity and inclusivity,” WTAMU President Walter Wendler said. “This project is designed to clarify college completion issues, build a platform for community cooperation, define goals and create a plan of action. WT partners with regional and state organizations focused on student success and with the support of Greater Texas Foundation, our collaboration will allow positive changes in education attainment for our area.”

The project will result in a comprehensive picture of education and labor markets in the region. Second, the project will result in a collaborative strategic plan to address challenges identified by the research.

“Greater Texas Foundation is proud to support efforts aimed at postsecondary success for our state’s rural students,” Sue McMillin, president and CEO of GTF, said. “We are excited about the opportunity to work with FSG and our education partners in the Panhandle to improve the region’s education outcomes.”

Recognizing that educational attainment is associated with improved economic and social well-being, the grant is intended to help support a collective initiative for enriched lives and communities in the Texas Panhandle. The project is expected to improve knowledge and awareness of education and economic issues facing rural Texans as well as assess current industry, community college and university cooperation to better serve and secure the future of the rural Texas Panhandle.

“There is much anticipation regarding this endeavor for us in the higher education sector. We spend a great deal of time, energy and resources understanding the student populations, employers and the communities we all serve. This project is an opportunity for us to gain useful insight about the individuals we don’t yet call students – with the hope of being able to,” Dr. Jud Hicks, president of Frank Phillips College, said.

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