Why Rural Community & Tribal Colleges Matter


America’s 600 publicly controlled rural community and tribal colleges celebrate doors that they alone open. They provide access to general education for transfer; for-credit technical, vocational and occupational programs of 12 months to two years in duration that lead to high-skill, high wage jobs; workforce training for (a) recent high school graduates, (b) recent high school dropouts, (c) currently employed workers, and (d) the long term unemployed; and they provide community services, serving as regional cultural centers for the performing and fine arts.


Rural community and tribal colleges are centers of educational opportunity. They are the “neighborhood schools of higher education,” as noted community college scholar James C. Palmer has said. They are close to home and both representative and inclusive of their communities. They are the leading regional centers for cultural and fine arts in rural America—and this is particularly true at tribal colleges, which typically host key tribal historical documents and artifacts.


They create opportunities in place, and celebrate doors that they alone open. They are open-door, open access colleges that welcome all who desire to learn, regardless of wealth, heritage, or prior academic preparation or experience. They serve 3.3 million students at 600 colleges and 800 campuses, and are the fastest growing sector of U.S. community colleges.


Fast Facts


The US Department of Education and the American Association of Community Colleges cannot tell exactly how many community colleges actually exist, as data are collected by units of accreditation not districts or campuses. Further, USED’s “urbanicity” definition classifies colleges as either less or more “urban.” It is not a neutral term, and is inconsistent with the August 2009 White House Memorandum on Place-Based Policies. Mason City, Iowa and Sheridan, Wyoming do not “aspire” to be urban.The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s 2010 Basic Classification is a powerful new tool to identify spatial differences of America’s rural, suburban & urban Associate’s Colleges. Of the 860 districts nationally…


  • Publicly controlled Rural Community College Districts: 553 (64% of all districts; they serve 3.4 million or 37% of the 10.2 million total enrolled nationwide).
  • Tribally Controlled: 41 (USE AIHEC for this number, and can link)
  • Total: 594


Total Enrollment


  • 2007-2008 Calendar Year: 3,477,449 (up by 255,038 from 2001-2002)
  • 2007-2008 Credit Hours: 46,70,019 (34% of all U.S. community college credits generated)
  • Part Time Students: 57%
  • Full Time Students: 43%