GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is investing $500,000 in Partnership Teach as part of its rural health initiative.

Partnership Teach, housed in East Carolina University’s College of Education, is aimed at increasing the number of teachers in the state by offering affordable, online degree completion for students who want to teach in their hometowns.

The program allows students to take courses at any North Carolina community college and transfer to ECU to complete their four-year degree in elementary education, middle grades education, or special education.

Earlier this year, Blue Cross NC announced an $8 million investment in programs that address challenges faced by rural areas across the state. Education is a key part of this investment.

“Blue Cross NC is committed to all 100 counties in our state. Yet we know that some areas have different needs or face unique challenges, which include retaining high quality teachers in rural North Carolina. A great education provides better jobs and socioeconomic standing, which can really change the course of health in a community,” said Cheryl Parquet, director of community and diversity engagement at Blue Cross NC.

Partnership Teach plans to use the funds for additional scholarships, web-based support for students and recruitment materials.

Each Partnership Teach Fellows scholarship is valued at up to $10,000 per student over the length of the academic program.

Many of ECU Partnership Teach graduates stay in their home communities after graduation, and a key component of the program is the ability of participants to receive degrees while living in their hometowns.

To do this, students take classes completely online.