Higher education ‘deserts’ are widespread across the state

Between 10 and 20 percent of Idahoans live in a “higher education desert” — that is, at least an hour’s drive from a college campus.

The Chronicle of Higher Education mapped access to higher education in a July article, and found that Idaho fits the general profile of states with limited access to colleges.

“(Higher education deserts) are largely rural and predominantly in the West,” wrote Ben Myers of the Chronicle. “Alaska, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Montana, in that order, have the greatest percentage of adults living more than 60 minutes from a college.”

In those four states, at least 30 percent of the population lives at least an hour from campus. The Chronicle did not publish more precise state data.

However, Myers wrote, 11.2 million American adults live more than an hour from a college campus. That accounts for 3.5 percent of the nation’s adult population.

Relative to the general population, residents of higher education deserts are disproportionately white — but Native Americans are also much more likely to live far from a college campus. People who live more than an hour from a college campus earn lower salaries, and are more likely to live in poverty.

Access to college is a nagging issue in Idaho, as postsecondary completion rates remain stagnant and well below state goals. In 2017, Gov. Butch Otter’s higher education task force recommended a long-range push to create a digital campus — to push college classes into rural libraries and community centers. 

Coming this fall: Idaho Education News will take an in-depth look at the state’s “60 percent” postsecondary goal — and the demographic challenges that stand in the way. Here’s a link to our award-winning series from December.

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