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Report: Rural Public Colleges Are Underfunded

Appalachian State University
Appalachian State University

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

The report looked at 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 along with researchers from other states.  

"If we look at all of the major revenue categories for colleges and universities, rural public colleges often trail the national average for public colleges and universities," McClure said. "What that means is that they're basically operating with fewer resources at their disposal."

The colleges in the national sample received less state funding per student than average, and they also tend to bring in less revenue from tuition, fundraising and campus services.

McClure says that funding disparity matters because rural public colleges are major economic drivers for their communities.

"These are colleges that are producing the teachers and the nurses and the police officers," McClure said. "They're often the largest employers in their communities and beyond that also support a number of local businesses through the goods and services that they purchase."

The report proposed federal solutions to support these institutions:

  • Base future stimulus aid on total student enrollment to better account for 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 to low-income students to purchase laptops needed for remote learning
  • Create a federal designation for rural colleges to direct more targeted aid to meet their needs

"The vast majority of Americans, including in North Carolina, are attending some of these more regional-oriented institutions," McClure said. "It's important as we continue to navigate the pandemic, that if we are interested in supporting rural communities and creating opportunity for the people there, we ought to invest in these institutions." 

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email:
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