That distance can make the difference in whether or not someone decides to go to college or is able to finish a degree. "The impact goes beyond would-be students themselves. Communities that lack local colleges and universities also often lag in economic development, as they miss out on the spin-off start-up businesses and cultural amenities that institutions of higher education often create and that are increasingly necessary for attracting upscale residents and businesses," Anne Kim writes for Inside Higher Ed. Kim is director of domestic policy at the liberal-leaning Progressive Policy Institute and a contributing editor at Washington Monthly, a nonprofit publication known for its annual rankings of U.S. colleges and universities. (The latest, just issued, ranked Kentucky's Berea College, which serves Appalachian students, tops among liberal arts schools.)
"Growing up in an 'education desert' thus not only makes it harder to attend college, but also means there are fewer opportunities for upward mobility in your hometown even if you do graduate," Kim writes. "The richest 10 percent of the nation’s zip codes are predominantly college-rich metro areas, urban and suburban, with the best educated residents, while a majority of the poorest zip codes are rural."