December 30, 2022
A group of researchers identified 474 institutions that they’re classifying as regional public universities — an effort they hope will help policymakers, other researchers, philanthropists and the colleges themselves, which often sit in the shadow of more prominent research and land-grant universities.
The Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges says that regional publics on its new list educate more than 5 million students, representing 47% of all students seeking bachelor’s degrees at four-year public institutions. Some 37% of their students receive federal Pell Grants, on average, indicating many are from low-income families.
Regional public institutions educate 58% of Black or African American students attending public four-year colleges. They enroll 35% of Asian American students, 47% of American Indian or Alaska Native students, 39% of Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander students, 44% of Hispanic or Latino students, and 44% of multiracial students.
The new list of regional public colleges is made up of many institutions that are unlikely to be recognized in much of the country. They include institutions that are part of large systems like the State University of New York, City University of New York and California State University systems. But they also include affiliates of well-known flagships, like University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, institutions with directionally descriptive names, like Eastern Oregon University, and others, such as Great Basin College in Nevada.
Researchers who study regional publics say they are important to their local communities — they’re economic drivers and provide access to higher education. But they also say the sector has historically been poorly defined, overlooked and understudied.
“Until very recently, RPUs were largely absent from scholarly and policy discussions,” said Cecilia Orphan, a higher education professor at the University of Denver who is director of partnerships for the Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges. “This study contributes a dataset and interactive map that we hope will support future research and better understanding about these important institutions and their students and regions.”
The researchers’ interactive map is posted online here.