Is part-time education the future for rural college students? – Natural Self Esteem

Editor’s Note: A version of this story first appeared in mile markers, a bi-monthly newsletter from Open Campus about the role of college in rural America. You can join the mailing list at the end of this article to receive future issues in your inbox.


Two-fifths of college students are 25 or older. And two-fifths work full-time. Nationwide, 7.5 million of the nearly 20 million students enrolled in colleges and universities as of fall 2020 were attending school part-time.

This part-time reality is particularly true in rural areas, where the average student is older and poorer and only one in five adults over the age of 25 has a college degree.

That is, for a large number of rural students, higher education means part-time education.

We know that the “typical student” has been so trendy for years.

Yet many colleges still focus on majors that can require years of full-time study, a serious time hurdle for working adults.

Many of these require a litany of pre-major courses, and often students see little direct connection between those undergraduate courses and the careers they pursue.

That’s often the opposite of what many students are demanding in the face of rising student debt, tuition, and the cost of living.

These students want more skills, more training, more flexible educational options, and a more direct career path.

These students don’t go away. In fact, they could soon be “the new majority of students,” as Arthur Levine, a president emeritus of Columbia University’s Teachers College, said in a recent roundtable hosted by the University of Phoenix.

Are schools actually adapting to their needs?

More Rural Higher Ed News

VR in the Ozarks. Arkansas hopes to give up to 4,500 residents a hands-on look at new career opportunities through a virtual reality program launched with help from simulation-based training company TRANSFR. The partnership with the Arkansas Office of Skills Development and Arkansas Community Colleges includes a VR look at careers in everything from manufacturing and hospitality to public safety and auto repair shops.

  • Why it matters: Rural students often do not have the same opportunities to explore careers due to geographic and financial constraints. Tech can solve some of these challenges, and many of the students already using the program are from rural or otherwise underserved communities across 15 locations that host TRANSFR technology.

UC Santa Cruz adds 100 new faculties. Located between Silicon Valley and the Monterey coast, California’s land-grant university is planning the largest faculty expansion in its 57-year history, from about 585 faculty members currently to almost 700. That hiring — plus an estimated 200-250 retirements and resignations that will take place in needing to be replaced in the next decade—could be a sea change as Santa Cruz aims to have a faculty that is 25% Latino, Native American, and Black by 2032 (the student population is currently 4.6% Black and 25% Black). % Latinos).

addressing the rural Maine attorney gap. The Maine legislature has proposed a bill that would introduce a three-year pilot program for a handful of University of Maine law students to work a semester at a legal aid clinic in rural areas like Arastook County, where it can take two or more hours to complete the next one courthouse.

Rural Outreach

Marlene Tromp is President of Boise State University in Idaho, where 83% of the counties are rural.

In 2020, Tromp launched the university’s Community Impact Program, in which staff members physically went to these communities — in one case, by opening a business on a local farm — to ask what degree programs would be most useful to them.

Boise State used this feedback to develop a hybrid approach that involved meeting with on-site faculty in person and forming local cohorts while they participated in classes online throughout the semester.

The rural outreach – in one case the first meetings took place on a local farm – stimulated engagement well beyond the program participants.

While many rural areas of Idaho have seen sharp falls in college enrollments during the pandemic, “in the cities where we’ve put down roots, there’s been a 25% to 56% increase,” Tromp says.

Recently, the University of Colorado-Boulder and the state of Colorado began offering four-year engineering degrees (and others) at smaller, rural partner campuses and employ about a dozen faculty members who also live in those areas.

dr Marlene Tromp, President of Boise State University (Photo by Priscilla Grover/Boise State).

In Rocky Mountain West, where barely half of high school graduates enroll in rural Colorado and distances between campuses can exceed 100 miles or more, showing up makes all the difference.

Still, these types of programs focus on bachelor’s degrees that take years to complete — and the evidence suggests that’s not always a great investment for working adults in the country.

As economist Richard Vedder writes, only about 36 out of every 100 students who enroll will graduate within six years and get a better-paying job than someone with a lesser education, such as a high school diploma.

Sure, college graduates net about $350,000 more in lifetime earnings, according to Kiplinger, after factoring in the “opportunity cost” of not entering the job market right away and other factors.

But the economic profile of the average rural student means their college is more likely to be disrupted or derailed by unforeseen expenses.

In other words, you’re even more likely not to be in the 36 out of 100 who make it.

Shortening the timeline may help: 13 pilot institutions, led by the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Minnesota at Rochester, have committed to exploring the idea of ​​adding three-year bachelor’s degrees.

In Georgia, major hospital networks have partnered with various nursing schools and colleges to streamline dual enrollment programs so that credits earned in high school are automatically transferred from institution to institution.

This makes it easier for rural students to graduate in less time, saves them money and makes them more likely to earn certificates that lead directly to employment.

Also, some state university systems offer affordable virtual courses — with tuition in the low hundreds — for classes teaching skills such as photography or graphic design.

Largely rural states like Arkansas and Louisiana are taking an extra step by recently launching databases that make it easy for residents to see what courses they can take without being fully enrolled.

More rural Higher Ed News

Rural stopover students receive support. The Sacramento-based project Attain!, which helps students who have dropped out of education re-enroll and complete their secondary education, was one of five rural partnerships selected by CivicLab to participate in a two-year initiative to improve higher education and the participate in workforce systems. Each receives technical assistance, training and direct financial support to create “Pathways to Prosperity” for low-income rural learners.

The agricultural cooperative gives nearly $1 million to rural colleges. Compeer Financial’s Farm and Rural Initiative provides $825,000 to community and colleges in the Farm Credit Cooperative’s 144-county territory in Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The funds will be used to support farm workforce development, with a community college using its $25,000 donation to purchase a John Deere tractor.

Pitt increases range on land. The University of Pittsburgh has seen a 57% increase in applications. Marc Harding, Pitt’s vice provost for enrollment, hailed regional rural recruiters as a significant driver, with up to a fifth of Pitt’s students coming from counties that Pennsylvania defines as rural.

Poorer, older Americans, who are less likely to make mistakes, simply incur higher costs if they get their big college bet wrong.

For her, attending college part-time is a risk management decision — to mitigate the damage if it doesn’t work out.


This article first appeared in mile markers, a bi-monthly newsletter from Open Campus about the role of college in rural America. Join the mailing list today to have future issues delivered to your inbox.

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