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Development and Progress of the Appalachian Higher Education Network



There is great need throughout the entire Appalachian Region for additional AHE Network centers. The eight existing centers are doing an excellent job of raising the college-going rates. These centers, though, only have the capacity to serve up to one-fourth, between 60 and 75, of the more than 300 high schools in the 91 Commission-designated economically distressed counties in any given year. Given that the centers work with each school for at least two to three consecutive years, it would be at least 10 years before they could reach all schools for an initial round of assistance. And that does not include the number of high schools in "economically distressed areas" of non-distressed counties or any other high school in need of assistance. ARC's goal is to eventually have centers in all states serving all counties, beginning with those counties and areas identified as economically distressed.

ARC is working with state governments, foundations and corporations in the region to add more centers to the network. As funding permits, ARC will periodically issue RFPs to establish new centers. The centers will implement the proven model from OACHE and center directors will be trained and mentored by the current Network support team, the founders and current directors of OACHE and WVACHE. The Network will continue to be supported by the Education Program manager at ARC headquarters who manages the RFP process and the grants to the centers, assists in providing technical assistance, and actively seeks new partners for both ARC and the individual centers.

Research Needed

Studies are needed to document the long-term impact of the AHE Network centers on the individual students and on the Region. While the increased number of students attending some form of postsecondary education has been carefully documented—and we believe that is a good thing for both the individuals involved and the region—we do not know what happens to the students after they enter postsecondary education institutions. Research on the impact of these and similar programs on individual students is scant; studies with a focus on Appalachian students are virtually non-existent. What little research there is, along with anecdotal evidence, indicates that Appalachian students tend to drop out of two- and four-year programs at somewhat higher rates than the national average. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that employment and salary benefits increase as years of college attendance increases. Thus, while students are likely to be considerably better off financially with even just "some college," if they are indeed dropping out at a higher rate, this is an area that should be addressed. When it comes to obtaining employment and higher salaries, the statistics on years of college attendance show that this is truly an instance of where "if a little is good, more is better."

To ensure that the centers are working as well as they can and to assist with future replications, an independent evaluation and study of the centers needs to be done. This study needs to document the implementation of the programs as well as the changes in the college-going rates at participating high schools. This evaluation and study will prove useful in building and strengthening the program as well as gathering support for the network and individual centers.

Another area for concern is "brain drain." Census data shows that many parts of the Region are losing population, particularly young people and those in their prime earning years. Formal research is not available to see if the AHE Network and similar programs are impacting migration patterns. Anecdotal data from high schools in Ohio that have been funded for a number of years, however, appears to show that those who attend college do not appear to leave the Region at higher rates than their peers who do not attend college. In other words, whether they go to college or not, it appears that some young people will leave the region and others will stay. Hard evidence proving this, however, is needed.

These are serious issues that need to be studied and, if necessary, addressed. The amount of time, effort and money put into the schools, the centers and the network is not trivial. It is imperative that we use all of our resources in the most effective and efficient means possible. The research to be undertaken will help ensure this by guiding the growth and work of the AHE Network and facilitating development of networks and centers in other parts of the country and the world.