Why Is College Enrollment Dropping in Rural Areas?
February 18, 2020 • 3 minute read
Recently we did a deep dive into research on rural areas in the U.S. Fewer students from rural areas are attending college and this presents a real challenge for universities.
Here’s data from the Lumina Foundation on students from rural areas, which make up about 14% of the school-age population:
College enrollment in the U.S. has declined for eight consecutive years (USA Today).
It’s not an across-the-board drop, however. Applications at some colleges and universities are growing strongly. A fair number of those are tech colleges, but others are large public universities and smaller private colleges. And some are in largely rural areas.
What’s behind this trend?
Brain-drain is real. Many committees, councils and task forces across rural America are working to stop it.
Our research notes that the U.S. isn’t alone in this trend, either. It’s also occurring in the U.K. Young people are leaving small towns because they don’t have the resources or incentives to make them stay.
In the U.K., the Prince’s Countryside Fund suggests that a way to reverse this trend is to prioritize affordable housing, transport, training and improve employment conditions with the involvement of the private sector.
For colleges and universities, one of the answers is online classes. Several of the state universities in South Dakota helped reverse the drop in enrollment. At Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D., for instance, on-campus enrollment has dropped 30% since 2010, while online enrollment has spiked by 60% during that same period (Argus Leader).
In addition, on USA Today’s list of colleges with rising application numbers, a significant number are technology-focused.
Dakota State University, for example, is South Dakota’s designated “tech school,” offering degrees in fields such as cyber security. In part because of their focus on technology, they’ve seen a 5% increase in enrollment in the last decade.
Another example is Wayne State College located in Wayne, Neb., which has an enrollment of 3,633. Its fastest-growing major is criminal justice, which prepares students for work in law enforcement, anti-terrorism, criminal lab science and more.
Paulsen is working with several universities to help change this trend. The keys include:
If you’d like to discuss this topic, don’t hesitate to give us a call! Contact Sara Steever at firstname.lastname@example.org or 605-336-1745.