by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Jenna Robinson’s latest Martin Center column explores the dubious concept of higher education “deserts.”
Students in the United States have unprecedented options for postsecondary education: from brick-and-mortar liberal arts institutions and research-intensive doctoral universities to dual-enrollment high schools and online-only degree programs. Entrepreneurs are innovating continually to improve America’s higher education options.
But a new report attempts to throw cold water on the higher education landscape. Entitled, “Disconnected from Higher Education: How Geography and Internet Speed Limit Access to Higher Education,” the report claims that 3 million Americans live in “higher education deserts.” The report is co-authored by Victoria Rosenboom and Kristin Blagg, researchers in the Urban Institute’s Education Policy Program.
When taken at face value, the report’s conclusion is cause for celebration: almost 99 percent of American adults have easy access to adequate learning options. This is a remarkable achievement. The report then focuses on the remaining 1 percent of American adults who have access to neither physical nor online education.
Setting aside whether 1 percent represents a significant threshold of Americans lacking higher education opportunities, there are problems in the report’s data and analysis that put even this tenuous conclusion in doubt. It may be that higher education “deserts” are even smaller than reported.