Danielle Douglas-Gabriel for The Washington Post
Despite the indelible image of some fresh-faced 18-year-old heading out of state for college, the truth is nearly 40 percent of students attend a school less than 50 miles from home. For students who work full time or have children — a growing segment of the college population — proximity to a physical campus or at least high-speed Internet access can be critical to pursuing higher education.
Yet researchers at the think tank Urban Institute say 3.1 million Americans live more than 25 miles from an open-access public college and lack a suitable Internet connection needed for online education. People living in rural and Western parts of the country are more likely to face this dual challenge, although nearly every state has pockets of physical, online or complete education deserts, according to the Urban Institute report released Friday.
“Access to degrees starts with actual access, being able to get to a place where you’re able to earn a degree,” Kristin Blagg, a research associate at the Urban Institute and co-author of the report, told The Washington Post.
Blagg and colleague Victoria Rosenboom used data from the Federal Communications Commission, U.S. Department of Education and the Census Bureau to identify education deserts and determine who lives in them. The pair define an education desert as a place where there are either no colleges within 25 miles or just a single community college. Based on that definition, an estimated 41 million adults lack access to a physical university, and of those people, 3.1 million also lack access to high-speed Internet.
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