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Rural College Attainment Gap Carries Economic Consequences

The college attainment gap between rural and urban counties has widened in the past 40 years, and that has economic consequences for rural communities.

We reported last month on a project by The Daily Yonder and the Southern Rural Development Center at Mississippi State University on how rural achievement has changed in the past four decades. They found rural areas had made progress on many measures, but college attainment was an exception.

The percentage of adults with a college degree in urban counties had risen to 30 percent by 2010 compared with 15.4 percent in rural areas. The gap had widened from six percentage points in 1970 to 14.6 percentage points in 2010.

The project's partners explored that issue further this week by looking at where that's happening, the extent to which it's happening, and what it means. They quoted economists who said residents' education is good for increasing employment and wages.

They also said education isn't the only answer to addressing economic-development problems; rural communities need to create jobs that demand educated workers.

"It's a more complex question than many people think it is," said Judith Stallmann, a University of Missouri economist, in the article. "A lot of people think if only we can get more college educated people in rural areas than, poof, we've solved the problem. ... We're also going to have to think about how we're going to get those jobs in rural communities, growing them locally. And we have to encourage students who go away to college to come back. How do we do these two things simultaneously?"

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