School Location

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April 29, 2017 – MCAT CARS Passage

Question: What is your summary of the author’s main ideas. Post your own answer in the comments before reading those made by others.

The conversation about how to make college more accessible is not new, but a critical piece of the debate has been largely ignored.

The geography of where schools are located and the impact of so-called education deserts on students is the topic of a new paper by a pair of researchers from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

“If higher education is to better serve students and expand educational opportunities,” the paper asserts, “then stakeholders must prioritize the importance of place and understand how it shapes college options.”

First-generation and low-income college students are disproportionately likely to attend schools close to home. Increasing numbers of college students are also parents and breadwinners, too, with community ties and jobs that are difficult to uproot. So even when these students are informed about schools far away that might be a good fit, or given scholarships to attend, many, for a variety of reasons both financial and cultural, choose to stay local.

And that can seriously limit their access to college.

The paper points out that more than 57 percent of incoming first-year students who enroll in public four-year schools attend college within 50 miles of home. Students of color and those from lower-income families are even more likely to stay nearby.

Where there are good, affordable, and accessible (not highly selective) options within close range, that’s not a bad thing.

But the paper finds that between 6 and 12 percent of the nation’s adult population lives in an education desert, and between 1.29 and 2.86 million students attend college in education deserts. Most are in the Midwest and Great Plains states, but education deserts are everywhere, and their residents tend to have lower-than-average educational attainment levels. Many are home to colleges, but not broadly accessible public institutions.

“As we talk about equity going forward and we talk about post-traditional students, I do think it’s really an important dynamic and we are going to have to consider it,” said Sarita Brown, the president of Excelencia in Education, a nonprofit that has looked extensively at ways to expand college access. “Does every student have access to a quality education, if, in fact, the distribution of educational institutions by happenstance or by taxpayer investments sidesteps areas where population growth is occurring?”

Take Columbia, South Carolina. Twenty private colleges serve 13,600 students, but there is just one community college educating 17,800 students. In Laredo, Texas, 94 percent of adults are Latino, and many are lower-income, first-generation students. The population of 260,000 is served by four schools, but just one, the community college, is accessible. While selective Texas A&M and a couple of for-profit schools (which are accessible but costly) serve 40 percent of students in the area, Laredo Community College alone is tasked with serving the remaining 60 percent, or 20,700 students.

Similar stories are playing out across the country. “The private nonprofit colleges operating in these areas tend to be selective (only one in four are broad-access), while local for-profit colleges tend to be smaller and more expensive institutions,” the report notes. “As a result, public community colleges play a significant role in delivering opportunities to residents of education deserts. The role of the community colleges cannot be understated: They enroll over half of all students who live in education deserts.”

Yet community colleges tend to be some of the most cash-strapped schools, with fewer resources and less robust networks of alumni who can offer students, particularly those without their own built-in networks, a path to prosperity.

The lead author Nicholas Hillman of the University of Wisconsin at Madison says he sees the paper as a “proof of concept” that he hopes will ignite a dialogue about equity and the capacity of the higher-education system to serve students.

The issue, he said, is one that is not going away. Tomorrow’s college students don’t fit the untethered, care-free mold, which makes providing accessible options near home even more critical. Certainly, he acknowledged, addressing barriers that prevent students from attending more distant schools, such as the lack of campus childcare and the high cost, would likely encourage more enrollment everywhere. But that’s not going to eliminate the need for quality options close to home.

And he hits back at the idea of online learning as a panacea. While it works for some students, studies suggest that distance learning has particularly negative effects on students of color and those who work and go to school at the same time.

Brown agrees. “Education is a human enterprise,” she said. “Face time is important.”

While there’s no easy fix for addressing the number of education deserts, the report suggests modifying the Higher Education Act, America’s primary higher-education law (which is on Congress’s agenda, but unlikely to happen before the 2016 U.S. elections) to help schools in deserts expand their capacity to serve more community residents. Selective schools in college deserts could also work with local community colleges to accept more transfer students or offer opportunities through a partnership.

The New York City College of Technology, Brown noted, has expanded night and weekend classes so students who work can attend. Long Beach City College has increased community outreach and mentoring of underserved students.

“It’s not like it’s not available. It’s still not plentiful,” Brown said. “I think this is the new area for institutions to innovate around.”

Their future could depend on it. College enrollment is down for the fourth straight year, even as more young people and adults say they think degrees are necessary. If we want to address the disconnect and expand access to college, the geography of the options needs to be a part of the conversation.

Adapted from theatlantic.


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This was an article on Education.

Have a great day.
Jack Westin
MCAT CARS Instructor.
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  1. Not only does education need to be more accessible, it needs to be affordable more broadly across both pubic and private schools. There are many societal and lifestyle barriers that ties one down to their local community for college.


  2. Main thing discussed is that colleges need to become more accessible


  3. Making college more accessible = school location is important
    local school is preferred but have limited capability ‘Education Desert’ = creates inequality = need to be addressed


  4. geography of college = important for accessibility RTA Brown, AU; author = supportive


  5. MI: Location of schools important, Education deserts have CC’s with many students, funding to help schools deal with high capacity


  6. ED=new issue discussed
    College students stay local + color & $=more likely


  7. some people in education deserts + bad, expand college access, need good close options for college


  8. Home schools have limited educational opportunities (limited access). There is a need to enhance quality of education in home schools (RTA: Brown).


  9. Issue of college education not being accessible has been going on for some time and an important aspect –geographical location of colleges, has been largely ignored. / Colleges close to home tend to appeal to first generation and low income college students, who are married and due to family obligations, find it difficult to uproot themselves to study in colleges far from home even if they are a good fit or given scholarships to attend. / Education deserts are everywhere and such places have colleges that are not reputable and are not highly accessible. / Community colleges apparently serve the bulk of the community while the smaller half of the community is served by several private colleges. Community colleges therefore serve an important role in providing opportunities to the large group of students who live in education deserts. Ironically, community colleges are poorly funded and cannot provide a robust network for their alumni. / Hilman acknowledges that distance learning puts students of colour and those who work and study at a disadvantage as this platform does not provide a quality education students deserve. / Although measures have been undertaken to improve the quality of education such as night and weekend classes, more can be done to reach out to underserved students. / Given that college enrolment is decreasing, the author regrets that little is done to improve college access to the people and strongly believes that this issue needs to be addressed.


  10. MIP: school location = important; stay home = limit access; no quality w/o access; options available ^ access


  11. School geography = important for increased enrollment + increased resources = needed


  12. MIP: Education deserts -> low avg education status
    MIP 2: Low SES students can’t afford to leave education desserts.


  13. Low SES= university near home
    expanding= increase access+ change laws+geography=important


  14. MI: place/geo of school =import; ed deserts=limit ed acess (esp 4 disadv)
    tone: neut


  15. Many people live in education deserts. Solution – schools must extend their capacity. Community colleges = important.


  16. MIP: need to address geography to expand access to college; tone = neutral


  17. Students or future prospects are being affected by educational deserts, causing several students to avoid college because it is inaccessible or too expensive. The passage informs the audience on how many community colleges are left with the burden of teaching majority of students, and that schools are in places which lack population growth. The author emphasizes the need to correct this issue.


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