Rural Areas Lag Urban Areas in College Completion

By Marré, Alexander | Amber Waves, December 2014 | Go to article overview

Rural Areas Lag Urban Areas in College Completion


Marré, Alexander, Amber Waves


Despite gains in high school completion rates, rural (nonmetropolitan) areas continue to lag urban (metropolitan) areas in post-high school educational attainment. The most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2008-2012 American Community Survey reveals that the share of the rural working-age population (adults ages 25-64) with a college degree or higher was 14 percentage points lower than in urban areas, and the rural-urban gap in the share of the adult population with a 4-year degree has grown by 2 percentage points since 2000.

Educational attainment-an indicator of the stock of human capital in a community or region-is a factor affecting the growth and prosperity of local economies in both rural and urban areas. The most recent recession has underscored that fact; rural counties with higher levels of average educational attainment had lower unemployment rates during the recession and faster job growth during the recovery than other rural counties. The effects of educational attainment go beyond employment outcomes; when ranked by their share of working-age population with a college degree in 2007-2011, those rural counties in the top 25 percent experienced population growth, on average, while other rural counties experienced population decline.

Increasing college completion rates and attracting in-migrants with college degrees may be a challenge for many rural communities. Household incomes are lower in rural areas, which could be a barrier for rural students wishing to attend and complete college, especially from persistently poor areas. For rural people who do earn 4-year college degrees, urban areas offer higher earnings and a wider range of potential jobs than are typically available in rural areas. …

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