About half of all U.S. public school districts are considered rural, and they collectively enroll some 12 million students, or one-quarter of the total public school population, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Whether these students end up graduating from high school and college, and how they fare in the workforce, is linked inextricably to their rural education experiences, a new report finds.

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At the heart of the issue is spurring economic development in rural areas — a large-scale policy challenge that will require business leaders, elected representatives, educators, and families to work together..."

-Catharine Biddle, the University of Maine

The study, published in April by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, sheds light on the state of rural education and its relationship to economic prosperity in regions of the country that played a pivotal part in President Donald Trump’s election.

Among the notable findings:

While rural Americans are increasingly better educated, those who are older, male, and minority still lag behind their urban counterparts in levels of educational attainment.

Rural women are increasingly better educated than rural men, with women holding a greater share of degrees at every level.
Rural counties, such as in Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta, where individuals have the lowest levels of educational attainment struggle with higher overall poverty, child poverty, unemployment, and population loss than other rural counties.


“Policymakers have not given traditionally rural areas a great deal of thought when they’re putting policies together,” she said. “There’s been this kind of laissez-faire attitude to these areas, and I think there is a feeling, at least within the communities that I’ve worked in, that without those supports, it’s hard to figure out how to move forward.”

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