Colby Participates in First-of-its-Kind National Network to Help Students in Rural Areas go to College

Announcements5 MIN READ
Photo by Gabe Souza
By George Sopko
April 4, 2023

Colby College announced today that it has teamed up with 15 of the nation’s most prominent universities and colleges in a new effort to help students from small-town and rural America enroll in, succeed at, and graduate from the undergraduate program of their choice.

The STARS College Network (Small-Town and Rural Students), which is being supported by a generous $20-million gift from Trott Family Philanthropies, the foundation of Byron and Tina Trott, will build on efforts to create new pathways to college for students who might not otherwise recognize the full range of educational opportunities available to them. It has also been designed to empower students to find the best school for them, whether or not they ultimately choose to enroll at a STARS member institution. 

In addition to Colby College, the nationwide effort, which is the first of its kind, includes Brown University, California Institute of Technology, Case Western Reserve University, Columbia University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, The Ohio State University, University of Iowa, University of Maryland, University of Southern California, University of Wisconsin, Vanderbilt University, Washington University in St. Louis, and Yale University.

“I am so grateful to Trott Family Philanthropies and their confidence in our admissions and financial aid team,” said Colby’s Vice President and Chief Institutional Advancement Officer Matt Proto. “Byron’s vision will allow this group of schools to invest new resources in rural areas, which over time will help thousands of students see themselves at and have access to these institutions.”

By teaming up and redoubling their own efforts, STARS members also hope to inspire other institutions, alumni, philanthropists, and policymakers to increase their efforts to support students in rural areas and small towns, building an ecosystem of opportunity that spans the nation.

Member institutions said STARS will support efforts that include:

  • Pipeline programs that bring students from rural communities and small towns to campus over summer break to help them prepare academically and for college life;
  • On-campus events for prospective students from rural areas and small towns, including providing transportation for students from their hometowns;
  • Expanded visits by college admissions staff to high schools in small towns and rural communities;
  • Support for students in the college-application process, including workshops and sessions designed to help students throughout their college search;
  • Scholarship funds for students and help applying for financial aid;
  • Fly-in and virtual programs for counselors, teachers, and administrators from rural and small-town high schools to help them better support their students on the path to college;
  • Creating ambassador and mentor roles for current students, faculty, and staff to promote a campus community that welcomes and supports students from small-town and rural America;
  • Partnering with local and national businesses to provide internships and job opportunities for the next generation of rural and small-town Americans

All programming is free to students who register with STARS.

STARS is also teaming up with Khan Academy and the nonprofit tutoring platform Schoolhouse to offer a free, online math curriculum and peer tutoring for students in small towns and rural communities, leading to certification of mastery in calculus—an important credential for admission to more selective colleges and universities that is not available from all high schools. 

Founding supporter Byron D. Trott, Chairman and Co-CEO of BDT & MSD Partners, was inspired by the ways in which college transformed his own journey, which began in small-town Union, Missouri and included undergraduate and M.B.A. degrees at the University of Chicago. Trott-affiliated philanthropic efforts have provided substantial support to students from small towns and rural communities, including through launching rootEd Alliance, which has convened philanthropists, as well as funding from Missouri, Texas, Tennessee, and Idaho, to train and place dedicated college and career counselors in rural high schools.

“There is a massive talent pool in our small towns and rural communities that has so much to offer—to our colleges, to society, and to future generations,” Trott said. “These smaller communities simply don’t have the resources to help show these students what is possible and help them get there. Collaborative partnerships like STARS and rootEd not only help to turn the tide, they have a multiplier effect that can catalyze far greater change than any single institution or agency could make on its own.”

Students who live outside metro areas face a variety of obstacles to pursuing a college degree, according to college admissions professionals. College recruiters, facing their own resource limitations, often bypass smaller communities—the same communities where students are less likely to encounter programs that help with college applications, financial aid paperwork, and standardized test preparation. Students say that a big part of the challenge is simply understanding what is possible and feeling welcome at institutions that can seem unfamiliar and intimidating.

Maine is Largely Rural

In Maine, a state where just one in three adults holds a bachelor’s degree and the majority of residents live in rural communities, those obstacles can feel outsized for students.

“The launch of the STARS College Network will allow Colby to create new access-focused initiatives, share best practices with other network members, and build upon our existing programs aimed at

supporting the aspirations of Maine students,” said Randi Maloney ’09, dean of admissions and

financial aid at Colby College. “This work is central to creating a student body that brings together a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives.”

Maloney noted that Colby’s current programs include the Early College Planning Program, a series of free workshops for middle and high school students throughout the state; expanded outreach programs such as Maine Days, an annual event in which Colby admissions and financial aid staff members visit every available public high school statewide; and the development of a weeklong visit series providing students a firsthand experience on Colby’s campus, among other initiatives.

STARS members say these types of local, regional, and national initiatives can ultimately help bridge the growing rural-urban divide in America by bringing students together to share the widest possible variety of experiences.

Increased enrollment of students from other parts of the country will also help institutions achieve diversity in more traditional metrics, such as first-generation and low-income students. An estimated one-third of students from rural and small-town America are people of color.

Research shows that college graduates from rural areas often return to their communities, so efforts to help rural students get the greatest benefit from higher education can create a virtuous cycle of support, success, and giving back to the next generation.

Students can learn more and participate in STARS programs at