Education Deserts: The Continued Significance of “Place” in the Twenty-First Century
Posted by American Council on Education on February 15, 2016
When deciding where to go to college, students ask several important questions: How much will it cost? What academic programs are available? Will it prepare me for my future? What colleges and universities are nearby? While most research and policy conversations understandably focus on helping students answer the first few, this last question about geography and place is too often overlooked. Perhaps it is overlooked
because we assume geography is irrelevant in the Internet age. Maybe we assume every community in the United States has a college or university nearby, or that students are highly mobile. Whatever the reason for overlooking the context of place, this paper explains why place still matters.
In fact, place matters even more for today’s college students, many of whom work full-time, care for dependents, and have close social ties to their communities. If higher education is to better serve students and expand educational opportunities, then stakeholders must prioritize the importance of place and understand how it shapes college options. Nonetheless, federal policy conversations and researchers often discuss college choice as though place and geography do not matter (Turley 2009). For example, federal policy efforts like the College Scorecard, Financial Aid Shopping Sheet, and College Navigator all seek to get “better information” into the hands of students with the hopes they will make “better choices” about where to enroll. But for prospective students who live in communities with few educational options, their educational destinations
are bound by whatever institution is nearby.
The purpose of this brief is to explore the importance of place even further, and to raise
important questions about how geography shapes educational equity and opportunity.
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