Owing to a quirk of history, many of the nation’s liberal arts colleges are located in small towns and rural areas. Many of these schools were founded in the nineteenth century as denominational colleges, when a college education was as much about teaching religious devotion, morality and good character. The belief among their founders was that this education could not happen if the college were located in proximity to the vices and temptations of the city.
By the 1920s, the United States was a majority urban-dwelling nation. At the same time, early twentieth century philanthropies, as a condition for their support, insisted that institutions be ecumenical and open to science, rather than denominational in outlook. The Rockefeller and Carnegie organizations, especially, worked to secularize American higher education. Thus by the early twentieth century, many of these denominational schools were losing enrollment, as well as their reason-for-being. To survive, these small rural colleges were forced to reinvent themselves.Read more
Today, the countryside is under severe and rising pressure
If you live in a rural area, you may feel the pressure yourself. The share of the population living the rural life is shrinking as large cities grow. That reduces opportunities for education and employment, forcing the brightest young adults to leave town in order to make a living. When that cycle gets started, the tax base shrinks, which leads schools to consolidate, stores to close and cultural activities to fade away, just as more people need costly social services to stay afloat.
Maybe you live in a rural community that has bucked the trend. Lots of them have. It has scenery or culture or activities that bring in tourists. It has held onto a local manufacturing base or exploited geography to become a warehouse and logistics hub. It is holding the line. But is it building a prosperous future?
And then, there are rural places where the future looks bright
If you live there, you are part of dynamic economy and progressive community. Forward-looking local businesses find global markets for their products and services. Education thrives and graduates have the chance to build a life in the place they love. Workers and employers pursue cutting-edge innovation while enjoying a quality of life your urban peers can only envy.
These are communities using broadband and information technology to eliminate distance as a barrier and make digital networks take the place of the physical proximity that urban areas provide. They are no longer “in the middle of nowhere.”
They make up the New Connected Countryside, and they have lessons to share with rural cities and towns around the world. We need your help to get those lessons to the places that need them the most.