Northern Vermont University has been awarded a $465,000 USDA Rural Utilities (RUS) grant to expand videoconferencing services in rural communities throughout the state. The funding will support the development of 30 additional community sites to expand access to workforce training and education, distance learning opportunities, and telemedicine in underserved areas throughout the state — bringing the total number of community sites to 60. The first sites were developed through the first round of RUS funding and are located in high schools around Vermont.
The additional sites will help Vermont’s small towns and villages grapple with some of the challenges that rural living can bring, including spotty internet service, lack of access to workforce training and higher education, lack of mental health and substance abuse counseling, and even connection outside the community. The use of interactive telecommunications connections to bring resources to rural areas has been proven to be one of the most impactful ways to bridge this lack of services.
“Expanded access to education and mental health care are the foundation of the RUS grant funding,” said Bobbi Jo Carter, Associate Dean of Distance Education Programs. “The first round of grant funding supported the development of synchronous online education to support the opportunity for high school students to get a start on college through dual enrollment programs, as well as distance learning degree and certificate programs for adults. This second round of grant funding addresses shortages in specific areas of the workforce, including nursing and mental health.
The new funding will add healthcare resources to the offerings available statewide, including a partnership with The Howard Center for direct care services. The funding will also allow for the expansion of Vermont Cooperative for Practice Improvement and Innovation’s telepresence connectivity to expand access to education and services through this critical statewide hub. VCPI is located at NVU’s Williston site alongside NVU’s weekend-format master’s in mental health counseling.
“This additional RUS funding will expand the network of services that can be delivered and where we can deliver them, especially helping more rural areas of Vermont. We are thankful to the USDA for this grant,” Carter said.