Today, CivicLab, a program of the Community Education Coalition of Columbus, Indiana, announced that it has been chosen by Ascendium Education Group to lead a national capacity-building effort to strengthen rural learning systems.

The $750,000 grant initiative will allow CivicLab to identify and select six to eight rural community collaboratives to receive funding and technical assistance for two years to support their goals in improving education and workforce training systems. Communities will be selected through a request for partnership process in Fall 2021 and receive support starting in January 2022 through August 2023.

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

“Too often, rural communities are treated as an afterthought in the design of national initiatives,” explains Dakota Pawlicki, Director of Talent Hubs at CivicLab. “Our model of assistance places the community first, empowering them to identify their specific needs and then providing them with the right expert to deliver the right support at the right time.”

The goal of the initiative is to support rural communities and regions in their pursuits to improve education and workforce training systems for their residents. Through cross-sector collaboration, selected communities will work together to strengthen existing plans that create pathways to prosperity for low-income learners, including adults entering or re-entering workforce training programs.

The effort builds on CivicLab’s experience working with dozens of rural collaboratives around the country and its recent addition of Talent Hubs and the National Talent Network.

“CivicLab has an extensive history of working with communities throughout the country to help cultivate the partnerships necessary to create connections between postsecondary education and workforce systems,” said Kirstin Yeado, program officer at Ascendium. “We are pleased to support CivicLab’s community-centered approach and their leadership of the National Talent Network. This work will support rural communities in building their capacity to ensure more rural learners from low-income backgrounds earn degrees and credentials aligned with the needs of local employers.”

The support provided by Ascendium expands CivicLab’s growing body of work at the national level. “As fellow practitioners that lead collaborative efforts in our own community, we are grateful to have this opportunity to share what we’ve learned with other communities,” said John Burnett, co-founder of CivicLab and president and CEO of Community Education Coalition. “We look forward to serving rural partnerships that desire to join our national network of collaboratives that connect learning to economic opportunity in the places they call home.”

“Tackling complex social challenges takes all of us,” added Jack Hess, co-founder and executive director of CivicLab. “With Ascendium’s leadership in rural postsecondary education and workforce training, and the trust of the communities that will engage in this work, we are confident that we will help thousands of people reach their goals of stability and economic mobility.”

Applications to join the initiative will open in October 2021. More information can be found at or by sending an email to

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 CivicLab: CivicLab, (a program of the Community Education Coalition) is a nonprofit institute dedicated to advancing the practice of civic collaboration and leading complex social systems. CivicLab’s approach is to: 1) learn what makes community collaboration work at its best, 2) document the discoveries, and 3) teach and share the practices broadly. The purpose of the work is to help communities increase their collective capacity—which is their ability to get things done, together. Since its inception, CivicLab has partnered with over 300 communities and organizations across the U.S. and trained more than 14,000 leaders of foundations, educational institutions, government, corporations, and community development organizations.

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