CivicLab Launches National Rural Learning Systems Cohort with Support from Ascendium Education Group and ECMC Foundation


COLUMBUS, Ind., March 18, 2024 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Today, CivicLab, a program of the Community Education Coalition of Columbus, Indiana, announced the launch of the Building Rural Community Systems: Education to Employment Partnerships initiative, a national capacity-building effort to strengthen rural learning systems, with support from Ascendium Education Group and ECMC Foundation.

This $2.6 million investment will allow CivicLab to identify and support ten rural community cross-sector partnerships around the country in developing education-to-employment partnerships. CivicLab will assist these rural collaboratives in developing and implementing plans to strengthen talent development ecosystems so that rural learners have paths to good jobs in their communities.

“Rural communities are well-suited for systems-building work, which centers on building relationships as much as it does on resources,” stated Dakota Pawlicki, director of Talent Hubs at CivicLab. “This cohort program allows us to support those partnerships seeking to strengthen talent systems while becoming more uniquely themselves through the process.”


In addition to direct financial support, selected rural communities will receive technical assistance from CivicLab and its Technical Assistance Provider Network.  This capacity-building model connects CivicLab’s expertise in systems design, stakeholder engagement, and cross-sector partnerships with an extensive network of experts, practitioners, and organizations equipped to address specific areas of need.

“This work aligns directly with our three-pronged strategy to develop knowledge, build capacity of rural-serving institutions, and support community-based organizations,” stated Stephanie Sowl, a program officer at ECMC Foundation. “Our new Rural Impact Initiative builds on the recognition that rural institutions and learners have needs, opportunities, and assets that differ broadly from their more urban and suburban counterparts. We are pleased to partner with CivicLab and Ascendium Education Group as we feel that the Building Rural Community Systems initiative directly aligns with our strategy.”

This effort is an outgrowth of CivicLab’s most recent work to assist rural communities nationwide through a multi-year cohort initiative, which it just completed last year. It also builds on CivicLab’s experience working with dozens of rural collaboratives around the country through its Talent Hubs program and the National Talent Network.

“CivicLab takes a community-centered, asset-based approach to supporting communities,” said Kirstin Yeado, senior program officer at Ascendium. “Their commitment to cultivating relationships and focusing on systems-level change will help ensure more rural learners have clear pathways to education and training that prepares them for good jobs.”

Applications to join the initiative open on March 26, 2024. Communities will be selected through a request for partnership process. Awarded partnerships will receive support from July 2024 through December 2026. To learn more, register for an information session, or apply, please visit

About Ascendium Education Group: Ascendium Education Group is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to helping people reach the education and career goals that matter to them. Ascendium invests in initiatives designed to increase the number of students from low-income backgrounds who complete postsecondary degrees, certificates, and workforce training programs, with an emphasis on first-generation students, incarcerated adults, rural community members, students of color, and veterans. Ascendium’s work identifies, validates and expands best practices to promote large-scale change at the institutional, system and state levels, with the intention of elevating opportunity for all. For more information, visit

About ECMC Foundation: ECMC Foundation is a national, private foundation whose North Star goal is to eliminate equity gaps in postsecondary completion by 2040. The Foundation’s mission is to improve higher education for career success among underserved populations through evidence-based innovation. ECMC Foundation makes strategic grants and program-related investments to support both nonprofit and for-profit ventures, guided by a strategic framework which aims to advance systemic change by removing barriers to postsecondary completion; building the capacity of organizations, institutions and systems; and transforming the postsecondary ecosystem. Learn more about ECMC Foundation by visiting and our parent company, ECMC Group, by visiting

About CivicLab: CivicLab is a nonprofit institute dedicated to advancing the practice of civic collaboration. CivicLab’s approach is to learn what makes community collaboration work at its best, document these discoveries, and teach and share the practices broadly. The Institute teaches collaborative community teams how to better approach complex social problems by redesigning the way they work together. Since its founding in 2012, CivicLab has partnered with and served more than 375 communities across the country and has trained more than 20,000 leaders and community stakeholders.

CivicLab is the home of Talent Hubs and the National Talent Network. The Talent Hub designation signifies that a local or regional cross-sector partnership has met rigorous standards for creating environments that attract, retain, and cultivate talent, particularly among today’s students, many of whom are people of color, the first in their families to go to college, and from low-income households. The designation serves both as an aspirational target for other cities to aim for and a platform from which cities designated as Talent Hubs can build.  The National Talent Network is a group of nearly 100 cross-sector partnerships working collaboratively to connect learning to economic opportunity in the places they call home.

Media Contact:
Dakota Pawlicki                        
[email protected]

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