The Corner


Higher-Education Deserts? Seriously?

(Photo: Rachelle Burnside/Dreamstime)

For “progressives,” there is always more for the state to do. A few years ago they started whining about “food deserts” where, supposedly, the poor just cannot get enough good food, showing how freedom fails and calling for new government programs. Now they are telling us that some pitiable Americans live in “higher education deserts,” and of course that’s tragic.

In today’s Martin Center article, Jenna Robinson and Adam Smith (economics professor at Johnson & Wales University) take a critical look at this notion. It crumbles like a piece of very stale bread.

One problem is that the report that supposedly demonstrates the existence of these “deserts” is badly flawed. Its definitions are contrived. According to the report, you’re living in a higher-education desert if your only brick-and-mortar option is a community college. But, Robinson and Smith write, “A higher education ‘desert’ ought to be strictly defined as a place where residents have no access to higher education — not a place with multiple options that fall outside strict, predetermined parameters.”

What about online access? The report declares that some people live in areas where there isn’t enough bandwidth for them to do coursework. The authors state, “The report’s authors use the FCC’s definition of ‘broadband internet’ (25 megabits per second) as the metric — an unnecessarily high bar. Students do not need such high capacity to take an online course. (For comparison, Netflix recommends its users have internet speeds of 5 megabits per second to stream ‘HD Quality’ content.)”

In truth, scarcely any Americans live in a higher-education desert. The report claims that about 3 million do, but that’s obviously exaggerated to turn a non-problem into a problem. And if access to higher education is really so important to a family out in the desert, the solution is to move. But progressives never think that individuals can deal with reality by themselves.

This silly “desert” idea misses our real problem. Robinson and Smith write, “The more fundamental scarcity facing students today is having access to appropriate job skills, not institutes of higher education per se. A survey to know where genuine opportunities to gain desirable skill sets are lacking would prove more useful in reaching those left behind. Fortunately, technical education is abundant. Vocational colleges offer the appropriate means for a large portion of the labor force to get ahead in today’s economy.”

We have oversold higher education and have a glut of graduates who lack marketable skills. The last thing we need to fret about are “higher education deserts.”

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.


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