Town and country
The Country Education Foundation is helping country students to realise their potential and follow their dreams.
7 August, 2018
Formed from the vision and passion of Founders Nick Burton Taylor AM and Julia Burton Taylor OAM, the Country Education Foundation (CEF) is a thriving support system designed to empower students across rural and regional Australia to aspire beyond high school, to higher education and a flourishing career. Certainly, CEF is a living example of the incredible social change that can take place when a whole community acknowledges the value of their people and the benefit of their capacity to dream for a career that takes them wherever they want to go.
What started as a small group of supporters assisting local students and young people in the area of Boorowa, soon filtered into neighbouring communities. Country Education Foundation CEO, Wendy Cohen (pictured above) explains:
“Neighbouring communities saw the benefit of the work in Boorowa, and then really passionate and engaged volunteers in Yass, Goulburn, Cowra and Harden galvanised behind their youth, and formed local foundations that led to a ripple effect further afield through NSW into South Australia, Queensland and Central Australia,” Cohen says.
CEF has since grown into a family of 43 local education foundations, which are run by volunteers at the community level, while the National Office in Orange supports, facilitates and empowers each local foundation and their volunteers.
Quite simply, the volunteers at CEF are the organisation’s lifeblood. They’re a constant source of inspiration but most importantly they are authentic bona fide people in the community: community leaders, teachers, business leaders, local identities, passionate people from all walks of life who know their local area and are able to give validity to the young people in their community.
What started as a small group of supporters assisting local students and young people in the area of Boorowa, soon filtered into neighbouring communities
"...it’s something that’s almost unique to Australia so far as the enormous distances that some of these students must travel, and that can be really expensive”
“In normal federated models of an organisation in this space, the National Office would never have that local intel that would know the individual students, their families and their story and would also then have the standing in their community to turn around to that individual student and say you’re worth something, you’re absolutely encouraged and supported in following your dreams.” That indeed is CEF’s unique position in the non-profit space; it makes the organisation special, valued and it means they can be sustainable and have a long-term impact, all reasons that led to the ongoing partnership with the Audi Foundation.
For rural and regional youth intent on further study, that essentially means that the challenges they face, such as geographical isolation, distance to metropolitan tertiary opportunities, the financial burden that comes with relocating interstate to study, and the social and emotional weight of leaving a very small town, are met with financial assistance, peer-to-peer support, mentoring and an ongoing relationship with an organisation that’s invested in their future.
“We know anecdotally and from our data that these students face significant challenges. The tyranny of distance really plays into our narrative, it’s something that’s almost unique to Australia so far as the enormous distances that some of these students must travel, and that can be really expensive,” says Cohen.
By and large the money that is provided through a student’s local foundation or one of the national scholarships is not going to cover all of a student’s education costs. It’s about using those funds to help close the participation gap (currently at seven percent), and to create opportunities. It’s also about students receiving validation from their local community as well as ongoing support in the resources and programs CEF provide.
Essentially, local foundation volunteers in the community fund raise at a local level: the majority of funds given to students come from that fund raising effort. The National Office uses their corporate, education and university partnerships and other fund raising activities to provide funds to students but mostly to provide financial assistance and services to the local foundations in those communities. The more services and funds CEF can provide to these committees and their students, the more people they can support in a much more sustainable way. That’s where partnerships with like-minded organisations and corporate partners that share CEF’s vision prevail.
“Our partnership with the Audi Foundation looks at our key areas of operation and strategy in terms of our growth. Additionally, Audi Scholarships are awarded to STEM students that come through the CEF system and apply for grants for STEM study. This partnership is a wonderful example of how corporate partners can join with not for profits and charities to support a variety of operational imperatives and strategic goals for the long term,” says Cohen.
CEF continues to monitor, engage and track student progress and currently has close to 90% completion at university and in TAFE, which is tracking much higher than the national average.
Over 25 years, CEF has helped over 4000 students, which equates to over 4000 amazing stories. Upon completion of their tertiary study, many of CEF’s alumni will venture back to regional communities in an effort to pay it forward. And while the work that CEF does is only one small part of a broader discussion, it’s a really important piece and it starts from making it possible for one individual in a small area to believe in their dream.
The more services and funds CEF can provide to these committees and their students, the more people they can support in a much more sustainable way
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