For the last several years, Schreiner University has committed its time, energy, and talents to accomplishing our rural outreach initiative. We have done so because it simply makes sense. What most people forget about higher education in this country is that it is fundamentally local and regional. There are a few dozen colleges and universities to which students travel across country or around the world to attend, but for the vast majority of institutions, our students travel an average of 50 miles away from their home to attend college. And although there is a huge concentration of people 65 miles to our southeast and northeast, if you travel 50 – 60 miles away from Kerrville in most directions, you will find yourself in a somewhat rural area.
It is also the case that, generally speaking, rural areas run the risk of being educational deserts that are not fully served by colleges and universities. In metropolitan areas, students can easily select their “best fit” college or university among several options, but the rural community may have no options 50 – 60 miles away. For a school like Schreiner to develop a rural initiative it is not enough for us to simply be the nearest university; rather, we often must bring Schreiner to the rural community.
So Schreiner is focusing on these rural communities and prospective students with the same enthusiasm – or even more – that we show for the high population areas around us. And we have had some success with these efforts. Though the headcount is small from any single locale, we are recruiting a larger and larger percentage of students from the rural communities around us. And the elements of this rural initiative are many: dedicated admissions personnel, special scholarship funding, appropriate program offerings, and focused outreach and sponsorship. But sometimes these are still not enough.
Many rural students across the state – both traditional and non-traditional – are unable to access our educational opportunities because they cannot commute any distance – not even 50 miles – to college, and the state’s broad-band infrastructure does not extend far enough out for us to bring an educational program to them. Reports indicate that more than two million rural Texans are unable to access broad-band infrastructure.
This is an unfortunate truth because Schreiner has redesigned one of its long-time programs on campus – a basic business administration program – so that it can be available entirely online. Since on-campus, residential students do not enroll in the program, this online program is not priced to provide residential amenities. Therefore, we can structure it as low-cost and high-value online. We have designed it with working adults in mind so there is significant flexibility in how and when the program can be completed. It is ideal for degree-completers – people who have started but not finished a degree – because it is very friendly in terms of applying earned credits to the degree requirements. In short, it is an ideal program for working adults in rural communities to up-skill themselves in order to secure better career prospects in their local communities or to better align their businesses with the most up-to-date business practices.
However, when the broad-band infrastructure is unavailable in the rural community, the working adult who wants to enhance their skills and knowledge is unable to do so.
What a fortuitous moment, then, in which we find ourselves as Texas voters head to the polls to vote on an amendment to the Texas Constitution that would create a $5 billion fund to expand high speed internet throughout Texas. Money in the fund, along with money from the federal government broadband program and other resources, would provide grants and other support for investments in highspeed internet projects over the next 10 years. Importantly, the plan is not dependent on additional taxes; it invests $1.5 billion from the $32 billion budget surplus, which in turn leverages funds from the Federal BEAD Program, maximizing the federal allocation through state matching grants.
Texas thrives because of the energy and productivity of its major urban areas. But the soul of Texas and much of its identity remains situated in its vast rural areas. We all need rural Texas to thrive. We do not need rural areas to get cut off from the rest of state and wither from the lack of opportunity and advancement. That does not mean that every rural town should strive to be the next Austin or Dallas; on the contrary, Junction just needs to be the best Junction it can be. And so do Eden and Menard and Leakey and Medina. Schreiner is committed to bringing robust, low-cost educational opportunities to all these locations, and the state is proposing to build the infrastructure to make that possible. Every election is important, but the opportunity to support rural Texas communities through Proposition 8 seems to make this election especially important.