FORWARD Curriculum

Last updated: April 3, 2024

Future Opportunities for Rural Workforce and Rural Development (FORWARD)

Sponsored by Ascendium Education Group, the FORWARD curriculum is designed to support Cooperative Extension Professionals (CEPs) working to address workforce development issues in rural communities. This project expands upon Cooperative Extension’s experience with youth engagement and career development to target non-traditional student populations such as incumbent, displaced, and low-income workers.

FORWARD Objectives

  • Build capacity for Cooperative Extension to serve as workforce development coaches and facilitators in rural communities
  • Identify and address the needs of low-income workers and employers in rural communities
  • Develop workforce pathways that reduce poverty and alleviate worker shortages
  • Leverage the Cooperative Extension network to scale improvements in rural community capacity to address workforce needs

Testing and Revising
Prior to putting a newly minted curriculum out to CEPs, we identified three pilot communities to vet the curriculum. The pilots provided immediate feedback that was valuable to reshaping the curriculum to improve its usefulness to the CEPs and their stakeholders. They also provided examples of implementation that may be useful for future adopters of FORWARD.

Cheryl Burkhart-Kriesel, Ph.D., University of Nebraska
Tanya J. Hall, Purdue University
Paul Hill, Ph.D., Utah State University
Sheila Martin, Ph.D., Association of Public and Land-grant Universities
Joy Moten-Thomas, Fort Valley State University
Jeff Sherman, Oregon State University
Mark C. White, Ph.D., University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Michael D. Wilcox, Jr., Ph.D., Purdue University


This project would not have been possible without the enthusiastic participation of many people – Curriculum Developers, Pilot Project Teams, External Reviewers, and 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

The FORWARD Program Items

Below are the individual items (curriculum, slides, handouts, etc) for each FORWARD module. Select each blue box to expand. The green box, provides the entire curriculum as one pdf.

Attribution: While the material is created for you to adapt for your use, the authors asks that you gives credit to, or attribute, the creators of this work if you borrow or alter the work more than is suggested in the material.

Introduction:  curriculum (pdf)

Module 1:  curriculum (pdf)  |  slides (pptx)

Module 2:  curriculum (pdf)  |  slides (pptx)  workbook (xlsx)

Module 3:  curriculum (pdf)  |  slides (pptx)

Module 4:  curriculum (pdf)  |  slides (pptx)  |  handouts (pdf)

Module 5:  curriculum (pdf)