Friday, March 2, 2018

How rural students not attending college affects the rural lawyer shortage

Addressing the resource gap between rural and urban areas is going to largely depend on two possible outcomes: rural students deciding to return home after college graduation to work in their communities and rural communities attracting new migrants. The latter is already a challenge for many rural communities and as it turns out, the former is as well. As a recent NPR article notes (and Professor Pruitt covered here), it's a challenge because rural students are attending college at a rate lower than their peers in other locations. Only 59% of rural students pursue post-secondary education, a rate that lags behind urban and suburban communities, which send 62% and 69% of their students to college respectively.

The article goes on to mention that 48% of people between 18 and 24 are enrolled in higher education  but only 29% of rural people in that age range are enrolled. While the gap between the different geographies in terms people choosing to pursue higher education isn't that great, the low percentage of people that are enrolled points to a broader issue. I have no reputable study to confirm this theory but it would appear that rural students are remaining in and ultimately completing college at a far lower rate than their urban and suburban peers. This is also troubling.

As the NPR article notes and I've seen in other studies as well as anecdotally, a lot of rural students grow up in environments where their role models were able to make a living without a college education. Many of them may be unaware of the economic trends that have made a lot of these industries non-viable in the long term and may assume that they can pursue the same career with the same results. They may also see higher education and high status career as something that is unattainable for them, a fact particularly true in low-income communities. Of course, the rural lawyer shortage almost becomes a self-perpetuating cycle because many rural students may lack role models such as doctors or lawyers who can show them that these careers are possible.

Nebraska has realized the importance of addressing the rural lawyer shortage through taking steps to get rural students into classrooms. In 2016, the State of Nebraska created a scholarship program, the Rural Law Opportunities Program, which sends high achieving students to rural colleges in the state where upon completion (and obtaining a 3.5 GPA and a minimum LSAT score), they would earn a scholarship to the University of Nebraska Law.

In order to address the rural lawyer shortage, early intervention is sorely needed. Hopefully this data combined with the efforts already being undertaken in Nebraska can show the way to addressing this critical issue.


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