NACOGDOCHES, Texas — Stephen F. Austin State University has been named the No. 1 Texas university of its size as a rural-serving institution.

The Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges awarded the designation to SFA, also placing it No. 11 nationally.

“Thriving rural regions require high-capacity, place-based anchor institutions,” said Jerry Kenney, program officer for education and economic opportunity for the T.L.L. Temple Foundation. “A quick glance on a map reveals the importance of SFA as the only major university located in our multi-county Deep East Texas region, an expansive, overwhelmingly rural geography.”

Kenney continues saying that “as the source of a cutting-edge rural workforce, the hub for rural innovation, and the place for pursuing big rural ideas and opportunities, a thriving East Texas, now and in the future, requires a dynamic SFA that embraces its role as a rural-serving institution.”

According to ARRC’s groundbreaking research, the research findings emphasize the important role RSIs play in providing college access to marginalized populations and underserved communities.

“RSIs are important educational access points for low-income students, adult learners, and those from marginalized racial backgrounds, and they are critical to regional economic development, as many RSIs are the largest employer in their region,” said Dr. Andrew Koricich, the project’s principal investigator and ARRC’s executive director.

While SFA serves its rural students and the surrounding rural area, Karyn Hall, SFA’s director of institutional research, maintained that the university balances serving this rural area while simultaneously serving students from metro areas.

“We’re a hybrid institution in that 90% of our students report residency within 200 miles of the university and 40% report proximity within a 100-mile radius of campus,” Hall said. “Around 50% of SFA students come from the Dallas and Houston areas and about 38% come from the East Texas area. We are rural-serving, diverse and hybrid.”

By supporting its service area in this way, SFA also is contributing to 60x30TX, a strategic plan by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board with several goals, Hall said. The plan seeks to ensure that 60% of Texans between the ages of 25 and 34 have a degree or certificate by 2030.

Its other goals include having at least 555,000 students complete a certificate or an associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree from a higher education institution in Texas before 2030, graduating with marketable skills and low student debt. Paired with SFA’s unique tuition rate plans and 15 to Finish initiative, which help students stay on track to graduate with less debt, the rural-serving designation is further proof of SFA’s commitment to accessible education.

“We have an expectation that we serve our region,” Hall said. “The fact that we have this national acknowledgment is really important.”

By serving the student population as a whole as well as the surrounding area, SFA is poised to continue helping the region grow and continue to develop.

Publishing their findings in an online data tool, the ARRC used five factors to score institutions during their years-long effort to identify rural-serving institutions:

  • percent of institution’s home county population classified as rural
  • average percent of adjacent counties’ population classified as rural
  • population size of institution’s home county
  • institution’s home county adjacency to a metro area
  • and percent of institution’s total awards conferred in agriculture, natural resources, and parks and recreation.

ARRC is a research collaborative and resource hub with the mission of increasing appreciation for and understanding of regional colleges and their contributions to opportunity and community wellbeing. Learn more at