• • Rural Opportunities Consortium of Idaho •

Higher Education Fosters Well-Being, Economic Impact In Rural Areas

From The Idaho Statesman 
Paul Lewin and Willem Braak

When we discuss education in the context of economic growth, we mostly think of education as a preparation for the job market: learning skills and knowledge to benefit our productivity in the workplace. The last few decades have made economists increasingly aware that “human capital,” the stock of knowledge and creative skills, is not only crucial to individual prosperity, but has much broader benefits for society.

These benefits are more indirect, and can range from better health and lower crime to the ability for a region to recover from economic downturns. Education, in short, helps families and towns achieve greater and lasting prosperity.

Most studies on the broader economic gains from education focus on metro regions. For a recent report funded by Idaho’s J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, we explore the role of human capital and its social returns in rural economies, and how formal education contributes to the well-being of communities.

First, we found that, with the increase in school and graduate education of the labor force over the last 45 years, the gap between rural and metro decreased for adults with a high school diploma, but increased for adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Nationwide, 28 percent of adults age 25 and older earned a bachelor’s degree; in rural counties this percentage is well below this average. The geographic distribution of high school dropouts across the nation is also far from even: Individuals without a high school diploma are particularly prevalent in rural counties in the South and in Nevada and Alaska.

Read more here.

Community Colleges Have Key Role in Idaho, Nation’s Future

From The Idaho Statesman
Kay McClenney

The U.S. is experiencing a shrinking middle class, a decline in per capita family income, and the reality that a child born poor in this country is more likely than ever to stay poor.

Most people believe, and research confirms, that the pathway to the American middle class runs directly through post-secondary education. Education beyond high school is no longer just one way to attain middle-class status; increasingly, it’s the only way.

When it comes to post-secondary education, Idaho faces unique challenges and opportunities:

First, though Idaho’s high school graduation rate is relatively high (78 percent in 2012), it ranks 50th in college participation and 38th in the percent of college enrollees who earn an associate degree or higher. Second, the majority of Idaho’s students are academically under prepared for post-secondary success.

Finally, the national pattern of educational attainment leading to higher earnings does not appear to hold in Idaho. Data indicate that Idaho’s economy relies disproportionately on low-paying industries and that employees in relatively high-wage jobs tend to be less educated and to earn lower wages than their national peers.

If these trends are to be reversed, community colleges in Idaho and across the country must do much of the heavy lifting. Especially in rural areas, these institutions are the bridge to the American Dream. But to do the work required of them, community colleges must make changes needed to strengthen student participation and success in college; and they must be strongly supported in those efforts.

Read more here.

Part IV: Brand Name Reforms In Rural Education

From Eduwonk
Paul Hill 

Brand-name reforms common in urban education reform – e.g. alternative sources of teachers, technology-based instruction, family choice, charter schools – can have promise in rural areas. But these ideas need to be adapted to the circumstances of rural places and subjected to careful trials, not mandated or rushed into implementation.

Reasoning from results in urban areas helps no one: it is no more valid to say “X (e.g.; chartering) worked in big cities therefore it will work in rural areas,” than it is to say, “Y did not work well in a city, therefore it will fail in rural areas.” A much more cogent line of thinking is necessary.

In applying ideas developed elsewhere it is necessary to consider the special attributes of rural areas. Small size and remoteness will affect whether and how brand-name reforms work in rural areas, for example:

Development of new supplies of rural teachers, as by Teach For America, will depend on whether qualified recruits will be willing to accept the low pay and isolation in rural districts, and whether localities can create teacher vacancies.

Increased use of technology-based instruction depends on need – communities are less likely to use online courses in subjects that are already well taught by a local teacher. It also depends on capacity. Communities with one qualified person to teach a subject like physics can increase the numbers of students that person can reach with online materials. But the same materials may be less useful in a locality that has no one who knows the subject.

Read more here.