Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Rural areas need more higher education centers to serve students too far away from college, writer argues

A college degree can be the key to better paying jobs for rural residents, but as many as 41 million adults in the U.S. live 25 miles or more away from the nearest college or university, or live where one community college is the only source of higher education nearby. And 3 million of those rural residents lack broadband internet too, according to the Urban Institute.

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."

It's not feasible to establish a college in every rural area that lacks one, but some states have opened what they call "higher education centers": small brick-and-mortar anchors for colleges to offer online and in-person instruction and sometimes, occupational training that caters to the needs of local businesses. They essentially serve as "pop-up satellite campuses, community colleges and training agencies rolled into one," Kim writes.

Such higher education centers won't cater to every rural student's needs, since they offer a limited array of courses, and are still out of the price range of many students. But the model could be expanded upon and, with state and/or federal help, could go a long way toward eliminating higher education deserts, Kim writes.


Doug Hughes said...

While providing local "college centers" in rural areas may be one answer, we must not forget that college is not the only answer for career paths. There are plenty of trades - carpentry, masons, plumbers, welders, electricians, manufacturing and HV/AC - that can provide beneficial and rewarding careers. We must interest our middle and high school students, especially in rural areas, in these trades as an alternate path to success before the trades run out of potential employees which is already happening. Allowing these students to work with their hands - metalworking, wood working, etc. - will help to develop that interest. Of course, school counselors must put as much emphasis on these paths as they currently do on college. Colleges can assist this process by establishing learning centers in rural areas to concentrate on technical education at a reasonable cost.

Unknown said...

I agree whole heatedly and would like to add that rural areas must also partner with community resource providers to remove other barriers to rural education and training opportunities. Statistics/demographics (and common knowledge at the community levels) show transportation, child care, family counseling services and other things are often needed as support structure while taking courses.