Thursday, November 01, 2018

College graduation rates are rising among rural students, especially in the most remote counties

Rural college graduation rates are starting to rise, especially in the most remote counties, though they still lag behind urban rates, according to the fifth installment in CityLab's series exploring the myths and realities of America's urban-rural divide. "When it comes to talent, the reality is far more complex and nuanced than the commonplace notion of talent-filled, highly-educated urban areas versus rural areas of unmitigated brain drain and outright economic despair," Richard Florida writes.

That matters because education reaps big benefits: lower rates on crime, obesity and smoking; better overall health and wellbeing; higher income; and increased economic development in communities, to start with. "Studies show that differences in educational attainment account for roughly one-third of the difference in economic growth between counties in metro and non-metro areas, as fewer jobs are being created in areas that have less well-educated workforces," Florida reports.

Percent of college graduates by type of county (CityLab chart)
A little more than one in 10 college graduates live in rural communities, but that's mostly because urban areas just have more people. Graduation rates are a better measure of where America's communities are going, but it's not very illuminating to just differentiate between urban and rural areas. Instead, CityLab examined graduation rates from 2010 to 2016 among three types of large, medium and small counties: urban, rural counties adjacent to a metro county, and rural counties not adjacent to a metro county. Graduation rates are measured as the percentage of adults in a population who are 25 years and older and have at least a bachelor's degree.

"The first thing that jumps out: There is not as much variation in the geography of college grads across urban and rural place as you might think," Florida reports. "While in counties within large and medium metros, a higher percentage of the workforce is college grads than in rural ones; in large rural counties that are not adjacent to a major metro, college grads make up a greater share of the population than they do in urban counties that are a part of a small metro. The only places that truly lag on their share of college grads are small and medium-size rural counties that are adjacent to metro areas.

Eight of the 10 counties that had the largest increase in graduation rates were rural, Florida reports: "Wade Hampton (22.7 percent) and Denali, Alaska (11.0 percent); Borden County, Texas (17.4 percent); Ouray County, Colorado (13.2 percent); Broadwater County, Montana (12.1 percent); Loup County, Nebraska (11.9 percent); Owsley County, Kentucky (11.6 percent); and Lake County, South Dakota (11.1 percent)."

The most remote counties that have a much larger share of college graduates than average are most often home to universities, federal labs, or have significant arts or cultural scenes or natural amenities, Florida reports.

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