Research News

New report from UW's Hillman puts spotlight on ‘Geography of College Opportunity’

June 27, 2016

A new article by UW-Madison’s Nicholas Hillman examining the importance of geography when it comes to opportunities in higher education was recently published by the American Educational Research Journal (AERJ).

The report is titled, “Geography of College Opportunity: The Case of Education Deserts.” AERJ is the American Educational Research Association’s flagship journal.

The paper’s abstract explains, “When students choose where to attend college, they often stay in close proximity to home and work. Much of the college choice literature, however, does not engage with the importance of geography in shaping educational destinations.”

Hillman writes: “Using county and commuting zone data from various federal sources, this study finds that the number of local colleges varies along lines of race and class. Communities with large Hispanic populations and low educational attainment have the fewest alternatives nearby, while White and Asian communities tend to have more. These can result in education deserts, or places where opportunities richly available for some communities are rare (or even nonexistent) in others.”

Hillman is an associate professor with the School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis and is an affiliate of the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education (WISCAPE)

In concluding his report, Hillman writes: “Although there is a market of highly mobile students who are willing and able to travel far distances to attend college, most students stay relatively close to home. Students who work full-time, have families, are older, or are members of racial/ethnic minority groups tend to be more affected by geography. Place matters when deciding whether or where to attend college, so this study takes a close examination of the geography of college opportunities.”

To learn much more about this important topic, one can access the report via this web page.

Also check out this Education Week blog post about Hillman’s report that’s headlined, “Why College Access Depends on Your ZIP Code.”