When it comes to education and healthcare, rural areas and the small towns within them often get the short end of the stick.

It’s not that things are stacked up unfairly against them, or that the game is rigged to make healthcare access and the education opportunities in these areas inferior to those in major metropolitan and suburban centers. The truth is it’s just a natural result of being a small town in a rural area.

When it comes to education, small towns in rural areas have to abide by the same state and federal mandates that require teaching particular subjects and the passing of certain standardized testing. Unfortunately, small towns just don’t have the enormous student bodies and numbers of teachers that large city schools have.

The entire K-12 population for a small town may be less than 500 students. The town simply can’t afford to employ a significant teacher population but is required to offer the same courses as urban schools. How can that town afford the staff to offer special education, advanced languages, AP, arts and other specialized courses when it only has 100 total high school students and only a small percentage of them may require or request those courses?

The same issue impacts healthcare access in these areas. Doctors and specialists often flock to major metropolitan areas. Even if they chose to work for hospitals in small towns, it’s doubtful that the hospital could afford to employ a staff of specialists who may only see a handful of patients in a year.

As we’ve discussed in previous posts on Public Sector View, video teleconferencing (VTC) solutions are the answer to these problems. VTC can deliver specialists from a big city into the examination rooms of a small town’s hospital. They can enable a group of small town schools or school districts to share one, centralized education resource for the instruction of advanced or niche courses. They can ultimately enable schools and hospitals to offer specialized services that they couldn’t previously afford to offer.

But how do they afford the VTC solutions?

In addition to new technologies that are driving down the cost of VTC implementations, federal grant programs have been put in place to help rural communities acquire VTC solutions that help them improve their education and healthcare systems. The most notable of these new grant programs is the Rural Utilities Service’s (RUS) Distance Learning and Telemedicine Loan and Grant Program (DLT).

According to the RUS DLT Website, the program “was designed specifically to meet the educational and health care needs of rural America. Through loans, grants and loan/grant combinations, advanced telecommunications technologies provide enhanced learning and health care opportunities for rural residents.”

These grants and loans essentially provide money for equipment and requisite services to connect rural organizations with their urban counterparts. This connection ultimately delivers the services that rural towns don’t have the means to offer in their schools and hospitals to citizens via video, whether those are advanced language classes or access to a cardiologist. To learn more about RUS DLT grants, watch our recent Webinar, “RUS DLT funding – Helping Rural Organizations Bridge the Digital Divide.”

Just as education doesn’t end when the school bell rings, the benefits of VTC extend beyond the classroom and hospital. In our next few posts, I’ll look at another grant program that rural areas can utilize to improve their economy and the different services available to states, municipalities and organizations looking for help acquiring government grants.