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‘Geography does matter’ for higher education

September 6, 2012
Emily Siegmon - News Staff Writer , The Alpena News

ALPENA - Students and educators are getting back into the swing of things while experiencing higher standards and curriculum changes. While motivation and personal growth does have a significant role on education, does location? Alpena Community College President Olin Joynton said higher education is more complex in rural areas.

"Michigan has a lower-than-average number of adults who have earned degrees. Rural areas are least educated in general, and suburban areas tend to be most highly educated," Joynton said.

Joynton said one of the reasons education is more prominent in suburban and urban areas is due to diversified companies and more public universities. He said rural areas have less industries and career opportunities.

"The main reason people seek education is to qualify for employment, advancement, or for a career change. People living in rural areas have more challenges and are more likely to move somewhere else for employment," he said. "There tends to be a greater amount of concentrated power through the state in urban and suburban settings. We have to work harder to have the same impact."

The number of adults with degrees are increasing, but so are poverty levels. With added obstacles, many graduates are earning degrees without a guaranteed job, or are asking themselves if they're willing to move to get a job. However, Joynton said some fields are more appropriate for rural settings, such as outdoor, recreational, health care, or business.

While Northern Michigan (below the Upper Peninsula) does not have a multitude of universities available to residents, local high schools have a significant impact on higher education and learning.

Fact Box

Increase of college graduates in Alpena County from 1970-2010

  • In 1970, 7.5 percent of those over 25 years of age had college degrees in Alpena County. By 2010, 15.5 percent of adults had completed college.
  • The percentage of adults with college degrees in Alpena County was less than the national average of 27.9 percent in 2010. The college-educated rate in Alpena County was less than the Michigan average of 25.0 percent.
  • In Alpena County, 8.9 percent of adults had some college in 1970, rising to 37.1 percent in 2010. The Michigan average in 2010 was 31.6 percent. Alpena County had 15,313 adults (those over 25 years of age) in 1970 and 21,329 adults in 2010.
  • Only 12.4 percent of the adult population in Alpena County had failed to graduate from high school in 2010. Nationally 15 percent of adults had not completed high school; in Michigan, the rate was 12.0 percent.

News report prepared by Bill Bishop, editor of and Robert Gallardo, associate professor at Mississippi State's Rural Development Center.

"Our relationship with the high school is very important, we focus on the 12 high school feeder schools in our five county areas as much as possible," he said. "High school prepares students intellectually and motivationally to be ready for and wanting to go to school. Our high schools prepare students for ACC more than any other school in Michigan. We have a higher rate of students prepared for college."

While students, teachers and administrators are being challenged with increased testing scores and higher educational standards, Joynton said he is concerned fewer people will graduate from high school due to rigorous standards.

"We do have jobs that are in high demand locally. Health care is steady with a strong demand that will likely continue in the future. Network administration also has strong placement locally, and our autobody programs have high placement rates regionally," he said. "Utility tech and concrete tech students tend to find employment elsewhere, or pretty close to home."

Joynton said health care and business remains popular at ACC, but half of all students receive an associate degree in art or science, fulfilling general education requirements for a specialized degree that will be received from a university.

"There is a correlation with low levels of education and a lack of public universities. It's cause and effect, geography does matter," he said.

Emily Siegmon can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 358-5687.



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