What Is a Rural-Serving Postsecondary Institution, and Why Is that Designation Important?

February 17, 2022

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Title: Introducing Our Nation’s Rural-Serving Postsecondary Institutions: Moving Toward Greater Visibility and Appreciation

Authors: Andrew Koricich, Vanessa A. Sansone, Alisa Hicklin Fryar, Cecilia M. Orphan, and Kevin R. McClure

Source: Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges

A recently published report from the Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges defines what it means to be a “rural-serving institution” (RSI).

To create this definition, the authors conducted a factor analysis on 2,525 institutions around the country, centering rural indicators of each institution (e.g., institution’s county rural classification, population size, distance from a metro area). The authors used this analysis to assign an RSI score to each college or university. If an institution was above a score of 1.175, it was classified as an RSI.

This report is coupled with a data tool that allows audiences to view the colleges and universities around the country that are classified as RSIs.

From their analyses, the authors outlined several findings:

  • RSIs span postsecondary types. Of the 2,525 institutions defined in the report, 33 percent of private four-year, 46 percent of public four-year, and 53 percent of public two-year institutions are classified as RSIs. 32 percent of HBCUs, 18 percent of High Hispanic-enrolling institutions, 93 percent of Tribal Colleges and Universities, and 94 percent of High Native-enrolling (nontribal) institutions are also RSIs.  
  • RSIs serve communities facing socioeconomic disparities. Out of the colleges and universities residing in counties with low employment, 83 percent are classified as RSIs. Relatedly, 68 percent of institutions in persistent poverty counties and 53 percent of institutions in persistent child-poverty counties are RSIs.
  • Enrollments at RSIs are smaller but diverse. Compared to non-RSI colleges and universities, RSIs enroll fewer students both in number of students and full-time equivalent students. However, a higher percentage low-income students who receive Pell grants attend these institutions. While RSIs enroll a larger proportion of white students than non-RSIs, they also enroll comparatively greater percentages of Native American/Alaska Native students.
  • RSIs are reliant on state appropriations. Public RSIs, compared to non-RSIs, receive a larger portion of their revenues from state appropriations. Further, most RSIs have higher endowment assets per student than non-RSIs (excluding private four-year institutions).

Based upon their findings and data tool, the authors outlined several applications for the field of higher education research, policy, practice, and philanthropy:  

  • Researchers should utilize the RSI metrics to design and conduct studies on RSIs and those who the institutions serve.
  • Policymakers should use knowledge about RSIs to build policies and funding models that better support and serve these institutions.
  • Practitioners at RSIs should use the RSI metrics to craft institutional peer groups for benchmarking, strategic planning, and improvement plans.
  • Philanthropists who would like to donate to or support RSIs should utilize the list and tool to ensure their resources are being directed toward those specific institutions.

To read the full report, click here. To see the data tool, click here.  

To read more about ACE’s work on the importance of “place” and geography in higher education, check out this report.

—Ty McNamee

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