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Rural colleges cut, consolidate classes

LA Johnson

Students choosing a college next semester are faced with new challenges and difficult choices. The current economic climate is forcing many higher-education institutions to cut or consolidate programs.

The problem is especially acute at rural universities, already facing stiffer recruitment challenges than larger urban schools, and still having to meet their financial goals.

Andrew Koricich, executive director of the Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges, said students who were planning to attend a rural college may have to shift their focus - or may opt not to attend college at all.

"What happens to rural students and rural communities when the colleges that they rely on are not left whole, that we're cutting down on what their choices are? We may be saying, 'You can only take classes online for these programs.' And so, it really is a restriction of choice, much beyond what folks in cities and suburbs have to face," he said.

Administrators have said they're under financial pressure to offer the courses that students demand most. Koricich said the problem is more pressing at rural schools, but a decade-long nationwide drop in college enrollment could mean the consolidation won't stop there.

"Even your large, flagship land-grant universities are not immune to this," he said. "Some of it may be coming down to pressure from the Statehouse. States are figuring out how to allocate funds to all of the things they allocate toward. There's a big accountability push."

Some larger universities have announced plans to consolidate as well, and many are facing budget shortfalls.

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