College Offers New Major in Rural Studies

Last Updated: May 27, 2009

This article appeared in the May 2009 Rural Policy Matters.

One of the purposes of the new Bachelors in Rural Studies degree at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC) is to build more opportunities for rural students to return to their home communities after earning a degree, according to College officials. 
“Our students are predominantly from rural areas,” says Niles Reddick, Academic Affairs Vice President at ABAC. “Many go on to have wonderful careers, but those are not usually in rural places,” he explains adding that many alumni express concern about their home communities and a desire to live in them. “What we hear from alumni and in surveys of employers is that there is a need for a degree that is focused on rural issues. We want students in small communities who may feel there are no economic opportunities without leaving their communities to understand they can go to college and return to rural areas.”
Bobbie Robinson, Chair of the Humanities Division, says students in the Rural Studies program will begin working in partnerships in rural communities early in their college experience. The plan is for those experiences to culminate in an internship and for partnerships to be focused on problem-solving approaches involving many local stakeholders.
Robinson and Reddick explain that some academic core courses will also have a rural focus. For example, in history and rural sociology classes, students will look at topics like rural politics, slavery, and religion with both historical and current perspectives and analyses. In research and statistics classes, students will address topics of concern to partner organizations. Initial community partners will likely include city and county governments, non-profit organizations based in rural areas, Main Street programs, economic development authorities, and other organizations.
“There’s unique value in rural communities,” says ABAC President David Bridges. “The program will serve as a public resource for communities and in examining quality of life issues and social values that are attributed to rural communities. But many of our rural communities are suffering. [ABAC] draws a lot of rural students, most of whom do not go back to small communities to live or work. Some students from urban backgrounds are interested but they don’t know much about rural. There needs to be an investment in rural communities.”
The program plans to admit 20 students by this fall and admissions are currently open. Students from states without similar programs may be eligible for out-of-state fee waivers through the Southern Regional Education Board’s Academic Common Market.
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Read more from the May 2009 Rural Policy Matters.