Rural young people who aspire to a higher education have long had fewer choices than their urban and suburban counterparts, contributing to far lower rates of college-going. Now many of the universities that serve them are eliminating large numbers of programs and majors.

That means the already limited number of options available to rural students are being squeezed still further, forcing them to travel even greater distances to college than they already do or give up on it altogether.

“This is just the next in a long line of issues where rural folks are told by people who are not rural what they’re going to have and not have, and that they should feel lucky to have anything,” said Andrew Koricich, an associate professor of higher education at Appalachian State University and executive director of the Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges.

Administrators say they’re responding to consumer demand by putting a priority on majors they say lead directly to jobs.

The University of Alaska system has scaled back more than 40 academic programs, including earth sciences, geography and environmental resources, sociology, hospitality administration and theater. Missouri Western State University eliminated majors, minors and concentrations in English, history, philosophy, sociology, political science, art and other subjects. Eastern Kentucky University shut down theater, economics and other majors.

Several states are merging universities, many of which serve rural students. Pennsylvania has combined three universities in western and three in northeastern Pennsylvania, consolidating programs and majors into a mix of remote and in-person classes. Three universities in Vermont are also being merged, with some courses transformed into a combination of in-person and remote.

North Dakota State University officials warned in October that budget and enrollment shortfalls will require cuts that could affect its “core university mission.” Iowa State University in the spring began a planning process that could end with programs consolidated or eliminated. And the University of Kansas — the state’s flagship — in February announced plans to end 42 academic programs. (Asked repeatedly about the status of this, the university did not respond.)

“Think about whether people in urban and suburban areas would put up with” cuts like those, Koricich said. “Rural folks aren’t any less deserving of a range of education choices just because they live in a rural place.”

Read the full article about rural universities by Jon Marcus at The Hechinger Report.