Erin G. Major, Emma S. Pettit, Osama A. Syed
Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Chris Marsicano
We investigated the impact of the existence of a community college on a rural community through the examination of a variety of outcomes on a county level, and compared these outcomes to rural counties that lack a community college. To do this, we examined all counties in North Carolina, accounting for urbanicity and the presence of a community college. We collected data on a variety of measures, including unemployment rates, crime rates, overdose rates, numbers of traffic accidents, commute length, high school graduation rates, numbers of single parent households, poverty rate, and voting records and registrations. We defined “urban” using the U.S. Office of Management and Budget’s definition of counties with at least 50% of the population residing within areas of 10,000 or more population, or that contain at least 5,000 people residing within a single area of 10,000 or more in population. “Rural” is defined as any county that does not meet this criteria. When considering community colleges, we looked at 2-year public institutions.
We hypothesized that the presence of a community college in a rural county in North Carolina would correlate with overall higher quality of life as measured by a variety of demographic, economic, health, and political factors as compared to rural counties in North Carolina without a community college.
Using t-tests, we determined which of these measures had a significant differences between rural and urban counties, counties with and without community colleges, and rural counties with and without community colleges. While we are still analyzing our results, our initial findings indicate some interesting results. We found that rural counties with community colleges had higher populations than counties without community colleges. Aside from this, all other demographic measures were not significantly different. This raises the question of whether the community college or the higher population is the causal factor. We anticipated seeing lower unemployment in counties with community colleges, particularly as these schools are touted as a solution to unemployment, but this was not the case. We would like to further investigate the relationship between employment and community colleges. Rates of smoking and adult obesity were higher in rural counties with community colleges, which contradicts the general trend of higher levels of education correlating with improved health behaviors. Voter engagement, as measured by turnout and voter registration, was expected to be higher in counties with community colleges but these factors remained consistent among all counties regardless of urbanicity or presence of a community college.