Throughout the United States, it has become increasingly apparent that there is yet another division in our population; a prominent gap has developed between the people that live in urban areas and those that live in rural areas. The 2016 election brought this issue into the national spotlight, and since then many have invested effort into bringing these populations together. This urban/rural divide can be seen on a smaller scale across the United States as well. This includes within the state of Utah.
While it may seem that Utah is a very rural state, interestingly enough it is considered to be highly urbanized. This is due to the fact that, even though a lot of the counties in the state can be defined as rural, a vast majority of the people live in the urbanized regions of the state (mostly along the Wasatch Front). Fun-fact: Wyoming is one of the most urbanized states based on this classification, despite it having a large land area and the lowest population of the 50 states. This puts places like Utah and Wyoming into the odd situation where most of the state is rural, but a majority of the people are not. Several aspects reflect this unique occurrence; politics, economics, social circumstances, and other parts of everyday life are constantly being influenced, and the urban/rural divide is prominent.
Some professors and students with the University of Utah’s Honors College decided to investigate the urban/rural divide in Utah through a Praxis Lab, a two-semester long action-based course geared toward a prevalent topic. With some research, the members of this class realized an unacceptable truth about the divide: though demonstrating an interest in pursuing education and having test scores indicative of success in continuing education, a relatively low number of rural students chose to go on to post-secondary education. The members of the Praxis Lab decided to focus their efforts on raising awareness for the barriers rural students face in their education, and guarantee that all students have access to the options they want for an education. To accomplish this goal, some of the members of the Praxis Lab are currently working on discovering how to make technical schools as accessible as possible to all interested students in Utah. Governor Herbert has already declared 2018 to be “the Year of Technical Education,” so the data collected by the Praxis Lab is timely and will hopefully be beneficial for what Utah’s government decides to pursue in 2018. The other members of the Praxis Lab are working with University of Utah programs to support the rural students here at the U, perhaps through a mentorship program that would run through their first year. Statistically, students are most likely to drop out after their first year, so having additional support during this time greatly improves academic success in the future. Rural students are less likely to have the nearby support of family and close friends (attending school in the decidedly urban Salt Lake City), so additional support may help the students prosper.
If Utah is to flourish, as many people as possible need to be successful in their endeavors. Currently, rural students are facing barriers that prevent many from living the lives that they want. By opening doors for rural students, doors will be opened for people all over Utah. Providing information and support for education is just one step that is required to bridge the divide between the rural and urban population in Utah, but it is a step in the right direction.
For anyone that is interested, the Urban/Rural Divide Praxis Lab is hosting a Rural Day Event at the Hinckley Institute from 5:00 to 6:30 pm on April 2. At the event, a panel will be discussing education and the urban/rural divide. Free pizza from The Pie Pizzeria will be provided! Further information can be found in the poster below, or by filling out this survey on interest for a rural mentorship program at the U! (You may also win a $25 Amazon gift card by completing the survey, if you want more incentive!)