Written by: Reagan Flowers, PhD
Many students dream of going to college far away, but the reality is that most seek higher education close to home. As referenced in the article “The Education Deserts of Rural America”, nearly 40 percent of college freshmen attend a school less than 50 miles from home.
Though the article dives into the unavailability of colleges close to home in rural areas, we can also look at how this is a problem in some urban communities, more specifically economically disenfranchised neighborhoods. The misconception that such communities do not want or need higher education institutions in proximity to their home is false and creates a barrier with recruiting certain industries to communities when schools are not producing pipelines of workforce talent. When there is not enough talent to supply workforce needs, industries are forced to locate their offices elsewhere. The economic viability of towns and cities are diminished when this happens, as can be seen in urban cities like Detroit, Michigan or rural towns such as Bastrop, Louisiana.
Online education is often posed as the solution to education deserts, but for those with limited access to the internet or technology, this is not a viable solution. Even if students from under-resourced communities work hard to secure scholarships and grants to pay for their education, they are still faced with the challenge of paying for needed technology and internet services. Not to mention, challenges with transportation; in many rural communities, there are no public transportation options.
The impact of these challenges can also be seen in overall college enrollment. As referenced in “Why Has Black-Student Enrollment Fallen?”, black enrollment in college has declined by more than 13 percent since 2010. Again, in many cases, this comes down to a lack of resources in minority communities, failure to provide the foundational education needed to move forward, the low number of college application assistance programs, and counselors who blatantly count students out and discourage them from applying to college.
It is important that we, as a community of educators, parents and supporters actively seek out public-private partnerships that result in programs that provide impactful economic solutions. It is time to better leverage schools, centers, apartment complexes, as well as industry and community organizations to ensure that students are provided every opportunity to build their best futures. Having access to higher education should not be ruled out because of a student’s economic situation or because they live in a rural or urban area. Communities should not be deemed unattractive by industries based on graduation rates or school performance ratings, rather they should be considered as fertile ground prime for investing and cultivating talent. Collectively, let’s move forward with solutions, innovative ideas, paradigm shifts, and futuristic thinking to empower our students and communities.