Committee didn’t meet goals, but rural student success needs to be addressed going forward, former chair said

Noah Ochsner chaired the Special Committee on Rural Student Success in the 2019-2020 Student Governing Association term. ( File Photo by John Chapple | Collegian Media Group)

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misspelled the surname of Trey Kuhlmann. That error has been corrected. The Collegian regrets this mistake.

In September, the Special Committee on Rural Student Success passed in student senate after weeks of debate and discussion. Noah Ochsner, junior in agricultural communications and journalism, advocated for the creation of the committee to help rural students attending Kansas State. Ochsner grew up in Tribune, Kansas.

Goals of the committee included defining what “rural student” means, creating a survey to determine how many students at K-State were from rural areas and figuring out ways to retain those students.

“I specifically created a committee focused on rural students because there are unique challenges that pertain to students from rural areas,” Ochsner said via email. “Also, rural students are from all backgrounds, around the country and face unique challenges.”

Rural students make up more than a quarter of the in-state student population at K-State.

Trey Kuhlmann, junior in political science, sat on the committee because he wanted to help people “who grew up in the same situation” as he did. Kuhlmann grew up in Stockton, Kansas, which has a population of 1,280.

“I want to help students that came from Rooks County like I did, and especially from my own hometown,” Kuhlmann said. “It’s something I’ve tried to do since I’ve been back home to help prepare and let students who had just graduated this year know what it’s like in college, and how you aren’t going to be prepared to graduate from Stockton High School or what it’s like at any sort of higher education place.”

Kuhlmann said students from smaller communities can be unprepared for education after high school in various ways — they won’t know how to approach professors to ask questions, how to succeed in a class with more people than they graduated with or adapt to the different culture present on campus.

“I definitely faced the issues of talking to my professors and taking time out of my day to speak with them about questions ahead and understanding more complex problems,” Kuhlmann said. “The homework assignments and things like that I definitely had to face and adapt to that through my first semester.”

While the committee had noble goals and Ochsner said he worked hard to bring the committee to fruition, they fell short. Ochsner said he had various health issues that prevented him from achieving these goals.

“[I]t was impacting my ability to be around large groups of people, so I was prepared for social distancing before it was cool, because my immune system wasn’t holding up,” Ochsner said. “I was forced to focus on putting classes ahead so I could make sure I was getting the grades I needed while staying healthy.”

Ochsner resigned from senate in the spring semester.

The committee met five times over the fall and spring semester. Ochsner said a definition for “rural student” wasn’t made because, after lots of reading, he said “it wasn’t up for” the committee to decide. Kuhlmann said the committee had a survey prepared, but it was never sent to students because Ochsner resigned and spring break began a few weeks later.

While the committee didn’t achieve what it set out to do, Ochsner believes Student Governing Association can do more.

“I would like SGA to look in to what they can do to support students from rural areas, as I said before there are so many unique challenges they face, and most of the time these issues are left out of the conversation or ignored,” Ochsner said.

In September, Ochsner saw a lot of backlash when attempting to create the special committee. The bill was sent to the Senate Executive Committee for two weeks where students from various groups debated about the merits of even forming the committee. Some students argued there needs to be a committee for students from other walks of life such as urban communities. Others didn’t feel rural students faced many distinctive issues at K-State.

“I remember when trying to form the committee how much resistance we got, it was crazy to think that there were people actually against supporting students from rural areas,” Ochsner said. “[Whether] or not that is what they meant, it pointed out something students from those areas deal with a lot of the time — urban residents being disconnected with their rural counterparts. It became too political for many of us, and it should not have been political, supporting students should not be a political game.”

My name is Bailey Britton and I am the former editor-in-chief of the Collegian. Previously, I have been the assistant news editor and the managing editor. I have also interned for the Manhattan Mercury and the Colby Free Press. I grew up in Colby, Kansas, and I am a junior in journalism and English. Through the Collegian, I aim to provide the K-State community with quality news coverage while we learn to serve our campus.