Folks at the Manchester Community Visit Choose Education as a Key Priority

Last year, VCRD completed a 6-month Community Visit in the southern Vermont town of Manchester. This process helped Manchester residents whittle 22 issues and ideas about how to focus community efforts to build a better Manchester by 2020 into four priorities for future action.

One of these priorities is to Attract Higher Education Opportunities. The community agreed that “Manchester needs higher education courses…to attract and retain creative young people, provide post-high school vocational training, support hospitality business needs, encourage small tech business development, and enrich the life-long learning of adults in town.”

Although the task force was originally created to work to attract a higher education institution to place a satellite location in town, a survey of educational opportunities already available revealed that Manchester already has a lot to offer, but folks just were not aware of what there is.

After conducting a comprehensive search, the task force realized that their task was not necessarily to attract higher education opportunities, but instead to raise awareness for the many opportunities that abound for higher education in the greater Manchester area. The task force knew that digital tools would play a critical role in creating this visibility, and, as the Director of the Vermont Digital Economy Project, I was happy to lend my experiences to help Manchester develop a plan to promote the many educational opportunities already around.

For example, the Bennington campus of the Community College of Vermont (CCV Bennington) is less than 30 minutes away, the Green Mountain Academy for Lifelong Learning is based in nearby Dorset, The Tutorial Center is in Manchester, and the Mark Skinner Library is extremely active in hosting and offering other free educational programs to Manchester residents. Combined, these organizations offer folks in the area a range of learning opportunities from tutoring to hobby development to degree programs. In addition, Bennington College, Southern Vermont College, Castleton State College, Green Mountain College, and the College of St. Joseph offer classes from continuing education through graduate degree programs and are all an easy commute from this southern Vermont community.

This led Jen Hyatt, chair of the task force and Academic Dean at Burr and Burton Academy, to note that “our immediate goal is to build a dynamic and interactive ‘learning’ web presence, which could serve as a central hub and database for area educational resources—a place where people could seek information, look for programs, request a course, and potentially offer one.”

The task force is already using a Wikispace to share information — in a closed web-based forum hosted in the cloud — across the diverse members of the group. Team members include representatives from CCV Bennington, Green Mountain Academy for Lifelong Learning, The Tutorial Center, Greater Northshire Access Television, Southern Vermont Arts Center, Burr and Burton Academy, Manchester Music Festival, The Collaborative, Northshire Bookstore, and Mark Skinner Library, among other local champions of higher education. Through Wikispace, they can all access team documents and share information, no matter where they happen to be.

Leveraging digital tools advising from the Vermont Digital Economy Project, the team is also exploring ways to incorporate a search engine into a new website, most likely using the WordPress platform, so that the site will be easy to update and maintain. The site will provide institution-specific information with links to each. However, it is most important that it be a user-friendly resource for local end-consumers of education.

After the site is up-and-running, the next step will be to promote the site and “brand Manchester as learning community – not just locally. If we can help a wide audience access the plethora of programs that we do offer, help each educational organization remain financially viable, share marketing resources, and open up new educational opportunities in Manchester, we will have accomplished something,” explains Jen Hyatt.

Our project is honored to work with the Manchester 2020 Higher Education Task Force to help them leverage digital tools, both to create a central online resource for learners and institutions, and to market Manchester’s educational opportunities to the local community and beyond.