Rural Higher Education: Challenges & Opportunities — Part I


A special series from the Rural Matters podcast

This episode is the first of a special four-part series about issues facing rural higher education from our colleagues at the Rural Matters podcast. It is coproduced by MDRC and supported by Ascendium Education Group.

COVID-19 has caused seismic shifts for postsecondary education. For rural colleges, the pandemic exacerbated issues that have affected students and communities for decades. While 41 percent of urban adults have a college degree, only 28 percent of rural adults do. The college access gap between rural and urban areas is sizable: In most states, rural high school students achieve graduation rates similar to urban and suburban counterparts, but their college enrollment rates are much lower.

Rural communities have long been confronted with unique education challenges. Chief among them is the digital divide: Many rural areas lack adequate broadband internet infrastructure, which has become even more critical during the pandemic. Only 63 percent of rural adults say they have access to the internet at home, compared with 75 percent of urban adults. In areas where internet is available, it can be costly. And students may lack the technology they need to be successful in online learning.

In this episode, Rural Matters host Michelle Rathman chats with MDRC’s Alyssa Ratledge; Dr. Jan Miller, Dean of the College of Education and the Director of Online Programs at the University of West Alabama; and Joe Thiel, Director of Academic Policy and Research for the Montana University System. They discuss some innovative programs that rural higher ed institutions are adopting to address the challenges faced by rural communities.