- A research group released a new report Monday detailing metrics for determining a college's rurality beyond where it's located. It identified more than 1,000 such institutions using its new criteria.
- The Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges said a barrier to helping rural-serving institutions is that they've never been clearly defined. Often these colleges are thought of as being in sparsely populated places. But an institution could be located on the edge of a suburban county but draw students from nearby rural areas, according to Kevin McClure, the group's communications director and a higher ed professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
- The report's findings also stress that rural-serving institutions shouldn't be conflated with predominantly White ones. Often, they're historically Black or tribal-serving institutions.
ARRC wanted to study rural-serving institutions from a broader perspective. Sometimes these colleges aren't geographically rural, but they help students from those areas and are excluded from discussions focused on a location as the only form of rurality, the organization said.
The group instead studied how institutions serve rural populations, as well as their locations.
It developed a tool comparing colleges to each other and how well they assist rural communities. The group assigned institutions an index score based on five factors, including population size, adjacency to a metropolitan area, and the share of credentials conferred in agriculture, natural resources, and parks and recreation — fields vital to rural communities.
ARRC labeled 1,087 colleges as rural serving. More than half of two-year public colleges and nearly half of public four-year colleges received the designation. More than a third of private four-year colleges were identified as rural serving.
Crossover between rural colleges and those considered minority-serving institutions was frequent. More than 90% of tribal colleges and high Native-enrolling institutions were rural-serving, as well as about one-third of historically Black institutions.
Many rural-serving institutions are also in areas facing socioeconomic challenges. Of all the institutions located in low-employment counties, nearly 83% are rural serving.
Clearer definitions for rural-serving institutions could help develop policy beneficial to them, the report states. It pointed to a part of the federal Higher Education Act that provides grants for rural-serving institutions but does not include criteria for identifying them.
"The current project offers a potential solution for this omission," the report states.
Other rural-centered institutions could also use the scale to identify each other and "create more accurate peer groups for the purposes of benchmarking, strategic planning, and continuous improvement," the report says.