The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published an article that addresses the challenges of rural colleges and the efforts of some schools to attract more students and faculty. Written by Lawrence Biemiller, the article highlights colleges facing difficulties because of their remote locations.

When Ferrum College president Jennifer L. Braaten began her presidency in 2002, the Virginia school did not have cell service or any fast food restaurants. This was a problem for recruiting. 

Braaten recognized this and worked to bring brand names to campus, including a Subway and Papa John’s pizza, and she got the campus coffee shop to start selling Starbucks. She thinks that familiar brands may be part of the reason that Ferrum’s enrollment has increased from 800 to more than 1,400.

Other rural colleges have increased enrollment using different means. For example, Alice Lloyd College requires every student to work an on-campus job, and in return, most students get free tuition. This has attracted more and more students to the school, which is in Pippa Passes, Kentucky -- a 30-minute drive from the nearest McDonald's, according to one student.

But not all colleges can provide free or significantly-reduced tuition. Another option for attracting more students is to emphasize the positives of a rural campus. For example, Emory & Henry College emphasizes outdoor recreation.

In addition to the difficulties of attracting students, rural colleges sometimes find it hard to hire faculty. Younger candidates especially find the remoteness off-putting. 

Although the focus of the Chronicle article is on undergraduate institutions, it is relevant to theological schools as well. Some seminaries face similar challenges, compounding the difficulties of a rural setting with the overall challenge of steadily decreasing seminary enrollments.

How have you seen some of these challenges reflected in seminaries? Have you had experience with theological institutions using any of these methods to boost enrollment?

Readers who have Chronicle of Higher Education accounts can access the original article here


Image Credit: "The Foothills of the Blue Ridge" by Geoff Livingston