Colleges discover the rural student

By Laura Pappano, author for The New York Times

On a late-autumn Sunday, a bus pulled out of El Paso at 3 a.m. carrying 52 sleepy students and parents from western Texas and New Mexico. A few had already driven several hours to get to El Paso. The bus arrived at Texas A&M 12 hours later, in time for a walking tour and dinner. After “Aggieland” information sessions, including a student panel and classroom visits, a stop at the Bonfire Memorial and an all-night drive, they arrived back in El Paso at 8 a.m. Tuesday.

“People don’t realize that Texas is a huge state,” said Scott McDonald, director of admissions at Texas A&M who came up with the idea of bus trips upon realizing that students from remote areas would not visit on their own. “Sometimes colleges say, ‘We don’t get many of those students; it’s not worth our time.’ ” He disagrees. Rural students bring “a unique perspective” to campus, he said. “In terms of diversity, geography is just as important as racial and ethnic.”

Mr. McDonald proved prescient. Given election results that turned up the volume on the concerns of rural Americans, who voted their discontent over lost jobs and economic disparities, higher education leaders are now talking about how to reach the hard-to-get-to.

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