Giving Compass' Take:

• Kristin Blagg, writing for the Urban Institute, explains what constitutes a physical college desert in the United States and how to address potential challenges for students in these areas. 

• What are other factors besides geography that play a role in the challenge to access to higher education for rural areas? 

• Read more about what makes an education desert. 

For people who do not have a university nearby, online education may be the only avenue to pursue higher education. We estimate that 41 million American adults lack access to a physical university, and of those, 3 million also lack access to an internet connection suitable for online education. An additional 2 million adults lack access to online education but have a physical university nearby.

We define physical higher education deserts as areas where either there are no colleges or universities within 25 miles or there is a single community college as the only broad-access public institution within 25 miles. Using this definition, an area with a private institution and a selective public institution as the only two institutions within 25 miles would be defined as a physical education desert.

Although some students move to enroll in college, 38 percent of first-year students enroll at an institution less than 50 miles from their home. The farther prospective students live from a college or university, the less likely they are to enroll. Students with work or family obligations may be even less likely to move to enroll.

To expand access to physical education, some have suggested that private or public selective institutions operating in deserts could form partnerships with local community colleges, which are better designed to serve their communities than private or selective institutions. Through these partnerships, local community colleges could find ways to expand degree options by improving the transfer and articulation process to the nearby selective four-year school.

Read the full article about college deserts by Kristin Blagg at Urban Institute