Recently, the University of Colorado-Boulder and Colorado State started offering four-year engineering (and other) degrees at smaller, rural, partner campuses, employing a dozen or so instructors to live in those areas as well.
Simply showing up makes a difference in the Rocky Mountain West, where barely half of rural Colorado high school graduates enroll in college, and distances between campuses can exceed 100 miles or more
Still, those types of programs focus on bachelor’s degrees that take years to finish — and the evidence suggests that’s not always a great investment for rural working adults.
As economist Richard Vedder writes
, only about 36 of every 100 students who enroll will both graduate within six years and earn a job that pays better than someone with a lesser education, such as a high school degree.
Sure, college graduates do, on net, earn about $350,000 more in lifetime earnings after accounting for the “opportunity cost” of not immediately entering the workforce and other factors, according to Kiplinger
But the average rural student’s economic profile means they are more likely to have their college interrupted or derailed by an unforeseen expense.
Put another way: They are even more likely to not be among the 36 of 100 that make it.
Shortening the timeframe may help: 13 pilot institutions, led by the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Minnesota in Rochester, have committed to explore the idea of adding three-year bachelor’s degrees
In Georgia, major hospital networks partnered with various nursing schools and colleges to streamline dual enrollment programs, so that credits earned in high school would automatically transfer from institution to institution.
That makes it easier for rural students to graduate in less time, saving them money and making it more likely for them to earn certificates that directly lead to employment.
Plus, a number of state university systems are offering affordable virtual courses — with tuition costs in the low-hundreds — for classes training skills like photography or graphic design, for example.
Largely rural states like Arkansas
are going an extra step by recently launching databases that make it easy for residents to see what classes they may be able to take without being fully enrolled.
For poorer, older, Americans, whose margin of error is smaller, there is simply a higher cost for being wrong on their big bet on college.
For them, taking college part-time is a risk management decision — lessening the damage if it doesn’t pan out.