Why This Raleigh Couple Is Focused on College Access for Rural Students

Say the phrases “low-income students” and “under-served students,” and most educators and philanthropists are likely to think of urban youths from ethnic minority groups. A Raleigh, N.C., couple, however, reminded everyone recently that those terms also include young men and women from rural areas—and that getting into college can be just as much of an uphill struggle for these students as for their urban counterparts.

Making college more accessible and affordable for rural youths was the motive behind a $3 million gift to North Carolina State University by Joseph and Deborah Gordon, both NCSU graduates and the owners of a group of veterinary hospitals. Joseph Gordon is a 1986 graduate of NCSU's veterinary school. The $3 million is for NCSU to start a program designed to give rural students a better chance at gaining admission to the university and to defray the costs of attending.

"N.C. State is a land-grant university, and land-grant universities were established for all the people of the state, not just the elite," said Dr. Gordon. The Gordons' gift to their alma mater for such a program is consistent with moves by philanthropists and higher education officials in response to President Obama's challenge to make college more accessible and affordable for all Americans, especially low-income and under-served populations.

The NCSU program, known as "Farm to Philanthropy," will offer mentoring and admissions test preparation for rural students through county Cooperative Extension Centers. A second part of the program is intended to help students who started their higher education at a North Carolina community college, but who would like to transfer to NCSU. The initiatve also will allow rural students to apply for scholarships that can help them graduate with little or no debt.

The Gordons hope their program will inspire other campuses in the UNC System to initiate similar efforts aimed at outreach to rural students—many of whom can use a "hand up" to fulfill dreams of a college education.