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3 Million Americans Live in Higher Education Deserts

February 2, 2018
 
 

Roughly three million Americans live more than 25 miles from a broad-access public college and do not have the sort of high-speed internet connection necessary for online college programs, according to a new report from the Urban Institute's education policy program.

The institute used data from the U.S. Department of Education and the Federal Communications Commission to identify these education "deserts," cross-referencing that information with data from the Census Bureau to determine who lives in them. The report found that 17.6 million adults live in a physical higher education desert, with 3.1 million (1.3 percent of adults in the U.S.) lacking access to online and physical college programs.

The report also tracked the demographics of people who live in education deserts.Bar chart: Share of adults living in each type of education desert, by race or ethnicity. Chart breaks down whether adults live in a complete education desert, physical education desert, online education desert, or no education desert. For Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islanders, more than 80 percent were not in an education desert, and the largest percentage were in a physical education desert. For Asians, more than 90 percent were not in an education desert, and the largest percentage were in a physical education desert. For American Indians or Alaska Natives, more than 60 percent were not in an education desert. About 5 percent were in an online education desert, about 20 percent were in a physical education desert and about 12 percent were in a complete education desert. For Hispanics, about 85 percent were not in an education desert, and the largest percentage were in a physical education desert, with about 3 percent in a complete education desert. For black respondents, about 88 percent were not in an education desert, and the largest percentage were in a physical education desert, with about 3 percent in a complete education desert. For white respondents, about 80 percent were not in an education desert, and the largest percentage were in a physical education desert, with about 4 percent in a complete education desert.

"This study demonstrates what many Native Americans, rural Americans and other Americans living in education deserts already know: the internet has not untethered all of us from our geographic locations," said the report. "As long as broadband access depends on geography, place still plays an important role in access to higher education."Map of the United States is color coded to show areas that are not education deserts, physical education deserts, online education deserts, and complete education deserts, with large swaths of Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Maine, Nevada, Texas, and Utah designated physical education deserts.

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