It may surprise you to learn that 97% of landmass in the United States falls into the “rural” category. If you reside anywhere in that extremely high percentage, traveling to the nearest city for an education may not be feasible – or even desirable. Many young adults in rural areas feel compelled to remain in their towns after high school graduation for a variety of reasons – they need to help with the family’s income or business; the cost of living fits their budget; or it’s home and they don’t want to move away. In fact, the thought of transitioning to a big city or campus is simply out of some rural students’ comfort zone. And that’s totally okay.
Closing the College Attainment Gap
It’s been found, however, that sticking close to home in rural America translates to a significant college attainment gap between rural and urban students. U.S. Census data shows that 35 percent of Americans over the age of 25 have earned a bachelor's degree, but only 8 percent of those degree holders come from rural counties. Proximity to a college campus is a major driver of the rural attainment gap, with only14 percent of the nation's campuses, mostly community colleges, being located in rural communities.
Fortunately, in 2021, residing in a rural community does not mean you can’t attend college right where you are. Ottawa University recognizes the talent of small-town students and aspires to make college a reality for them through online learning. After all, you have dreams, too. You shouldn’t have to give up on them just because of where you live.
OU’s Rich History and Heritage
You may be happy to know that Ottawa University (OU) is in your corner – literally. Founded in 1865, OU’s first physical campus is located in Ottawa, KS, a rural community of ~12,000 people. The University has since added campuses in Kansas City; Milwaukee; and Phoenix; as well as fully online degrees. But its roots are rural. As a small, Christian-based, non-profit university, so is its heart. The traits that make a small town so inviting are what make Ottawa University the right fit for so many students – the connectedness, the personal attention, the small class sizes, the approachable professors, the hometown feel. When OU incorporated accredited, online learning, it maintained its commitment to those values. You may be thinking that online learning is cold and impersonal, and that it can’t have those things. But when you enroll in one of Ottawa University’s many online programs, you’ll soon discover that OU has all those things, and more! It’s one of the benefits of earning an online degree at Ottawa University.
So, let’s explore how online learning helps rural college students.
It goes without saying that taking college courses from the comfort of your home is a huge plus. There’s no driving to classes, or living in the dorm, or being away from home. If you live in a rural area, a reliable internet connection could be a problem, however. It is estimated that between 6% and 12% of Americans do not have access to a quality broadband network. If you are one of them, get creative – and persistent. Do you have a local library? Use it. An area high school? They may give you access to their library or internet service. Even a local coffee shop can become your “office” for doing coursework. Or tell a friend or local business owner that you’re earning your degree online and ask if you can use their wi-fi. If you are determined to earn your degree, any of these options will be more practical than traveling a long distance to attend class.
This may be the bottom line for many rural college students. An online degree can save as much as $50,000 over a traditional, on-campus program, especially if you live out-of-state. On-campus schools charge significantly more if you attend from another state. Online courses, on the other hand, generally cost the same for in and out-of-state students. As an online learner, you also won’t incur costs associated with housing, meal plans, and a variety of fees. You won’t have to commute to class, either, saving on fuel and car maintenance.
Do you have credits earned at a community college? Ottawa University’s credit transfer policy can reduce the number of courses you need to take, thus reducing your costs. Another benefit of earning an online, accelerated degree is being able to hold down a job while attending school. A steady income can help mitigate school debt if you’re able to pay as you go. Some employers also offer full or partial tuition reimbursement, which can be a great reason to keep your job while pursuing a degree.
Being able to do school on your schedule and at your pace is another important draw for rural students. Most online courses don’t require attendance of online lectures at specific times, but instead allow students to access course materials, read assignments, and make online discussion posts at their convenience, as long as deadlines are met. So, whether you’re a morning person and 5 a.m. is when you’re most productive or you prefer to burn the midnight oil, you’re in control of your education time. Additional flexibility can be found by taking 8-week courses year-round to earn an accelerated degree or by slowing it down and spreading it out to fit your schedule.
The economic gap between rural and urban populations can be significant, in large part due to the education attainment gap mentioned earlier. It only makes sense, then, that earning your bachelor’s or master’s degree will boost your economic status. Consider this: if you hold only a high school diploma, your annual income potential is approximately $38,792. Earn an associate degree and that increases to $46,124. But look at the potential jump in salary when you hold a bachelor’s degree - $64,896. Add $13,000 more if you earn a master’s degree.
Beyond income potential, another reason it’s smart to earn an online degree as a rural college student is the need for qualified professionals in rural areas. Many small towns have a difficult time remaining viable in part because its residents aren’t qualified to provide the community’s needed professional services or, if they are, they often move away. What if you earned your degree and returned to a rural district to provide your services?
Take nursing, for example. There is a tremendous shortage of nurses in rural areas, which is why rural health stakeholders are looking into how they can attract nursing professionals who have existing ties to rural communities. Distance learning, or online nursing degree programs like those offered at Ottawa University, present the best opportunity for rural residents to pursue nursing school while remaining in their community. This does not only hold true for those who wish to pursue a career in nursing. The same can be said for any number of professions.
At the end of the day, don’t let something as benign as geography limit your potential for career advancement or hold you back from pursuing your dream job. Whether you decide to use your education in the city, around the world, or back in your rural community following graduation, earning an online degree is an important way to better yourself, to make a difference, and to encourage others in your community to achieve their goals, too. Ottawa University is the best, fastest, and most affordable online university in Kansas City, Phoenix, Milwaukee, and their surrounding areas. But you’re not limited by our locations, either. You can enroll in one of Ottawa University’s online, accelerated degrees from anywhere!
Contact an enrollment advisor for more information!