Johnson College has been awarded a $490,381 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as part of the agency’s Telemedicine and Distance Learning Program. This grant will support the College’s goal to implement a distance learning program improving access to higher education opportunities for rural areas in Wayne, Pike, and Susquehanna counties.
The project will link Johnson College with four rural high schools: Forest City Regional High School, Honesdale High School, Wallenpaupack Area High School, and Western Wayne High School. As well as three libraries: Lakewood Library, Newfoundland Library, and Pleasant Mount Library by high-tech telecommunications equipment.
Both high school and adult students will have interactive, two-way access to Johnson College faculty and will participate in remote education, discussions, testing, and skill demonstrations. Laboratories and classrooms at Johnson College will be similarly equipped to enable maximum interaction between faculty and students. In addition, the three rural libraries will be equipped with laptops to give community residents access to career exploration services and information about courses at Johnson College. Students participating in the distance learning program will be able to work towards completing any one of the 15 academic programs Johnson College offers.
The project will create a direct route to career technology education (CTE), a college degree, and ultimately a fulfilling career with family-sustaining wages for students in rural Northeastern Pennsylvania. For many families, this will be the first generation empowered to attend college and removes several barriers like transportation to make college possible. We will focus on a distance learning platform using the latest in two-way interactive telecommunications technology to create an environment that is as close to the Johnson College onsite classroom and laboratory experience as possible while being delivered in the high school community.
The rural nature of the region presents several barriers to students and community residents in accessing higher education. The high schools collaborating on this project are between 21 and 31 miles from Johnson College. Because of family responsibilities, cultural norms, or factors related to working while enrolled in school, many students stay close to home for college. When there are no institutions of higher education close by, transportation and distance become barriers to upward mobility, fulfilling careers, and financially rewarding positions. This program can change that through distance learning and telecommunications. This strategy has several benefits for the individual student, the community, the industry partners needing more workers, and the state/regional/local economic development efforts.
This project also benefits Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education which is integral to the College’s curriculum for all students attending Johnson College, whether through distance learning, online learning, or on-campus learning. The specialized STEM training made possible by this grant funding will give students the opportunity to start their college degree while still in high school and complete earlier for in-demand positions throughout the region, as well as provide an opportunity to train non-high school students for new careers due to job loss or the desire for positions with higher family-sustaining wages.
“We are thrilled to be partnering with these schools and libraries to bring the Johnson College experience to those who otherwise might not be able to take advantage of it,” said Dr. Katie Leonard, President & CEO of Johnson College. “Everyone should have the opportunity to learn skills that can lead to family-sustaining wages for in-demand careers.”
U.S. Representative Matt Cartwright (D-PA-08) congratulated Johnson College and applauded the project. “As the internet fuels more innovative higher learning options, we need to invest to make sure they are accessible,” said Cartwright. “Projects like this open the door to exciting educational opportunities that give more students a shot at a fulfilling career, regardless of their zip code. I want to congratulate Johnson College on this well-deserved federal award.”
Wayne County Commissioner Chairman Brian Smith said, "We are ecstatic about this collaboration and this cooperation between the collage, the schools and the libraries."
In addition to the distance learning opportunity this funding provides, students will also have access to Johnson College’s full array of on-campus support services including tutoring, counseling, career advisement, financial aid, internship opportunities, and exposure to industry from day one. Distance learning will help high school and adult students reach their full potential, and connect with the region’s essential careers already in demand.