Report: Rural Public Colleges Are Underfunded



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A new report from the Alliance for Regional College Research has found that rural public colleges are underfunded compared to their peers.

The report examined 118 rural public colleges and universities that admit a large portion of applicants, including four schools in the UNC system – Appalachian State University, Elizabeth City State University, Western Carolina University, and UNC-Pembroke.

UNC-Wilmington Professor Kevin McClure and Appalachian State Professor Andrew Koricich co-authored the study with researchers from other states.

“If we look at all the major revenue categories for colleges and universities, rural public colleges are often lower than the national average for public colleges and universities,” McClure said. “What this means is that they are essentially operating with fewer resources at their disposal.”

Colleges in the national sample received less state funding per student than average, and they also tend to generate less income from tuition fees, fundraising, and campus services.

McClure says the funding disparity is significant because rural public colleges are major economic engines for their communities.

“These are colleges that train teachers, nurses and police,” McClure said. “These are often the largest employers in their communities and beyond, they also support a number of local businesses with the goods and services they purchase.”

The report proposed federal solutions to support these institutions:

  • Base future stimulus aid on the total number of students enrolled to better reflect the cost of educating part-time students
  • Establish federal block grants for states that increase public funding for higher education to pre-recession levels
  • Establish grants for low-income students to purchase the laptops needed for distance learning
  • Create a federal designation for rural colleges to direct more targeted assistance to meet their needs

“The vast majority of Americans, including in North Carolina, attend some of these more regional institutions,” McClure said. “It is important that we continue to navigate the pandemic, that if we are interested in supporting rural communities and creating opportunities for the people there, we need to invest in these institutions. ”

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