What About the Farm Kids?

A while back, I was looking at college admission trends for the Atlantic. I learned that Columbia, for example, admitted more kids from China than the entire Midwest. I can’t remember if that finding made it through the editing process.

Well, the NYT wrote an article about the lack of representation of rural kids in colleges.

To college administrators, rural students, many of them the first in their families to attend college, have become the new underrepresented minority. In their aim to shape leaders and provide access to the disadvantaged, higher education experts have been recognizing that these students bring valuable experiences and viewpoints to campuses that don’t typically attract agriculture majors. Rural students, said Adam Sapp, admissions director at Pomona College, have “a different understanding of complicated political and social issues,” offering “one more lens through which to see a problem.”

23 thoughts on “What About the Farm Kids?

  1. Not sure why “Midwest”=”farm kids.” With so few people in the US who actually work in agriculture, around 2 million, the population of college-age children in those families is also relatively small. That said, when I taught at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, we had a number of farm kids in my classes–maybe 20% of our students lived on farms. More came from the smaller towns in southern Illinois, and they tended to go to SIUE (and I imagine other regional master’s universities, the most common type in the US and who produce the most graduates of any category of higher ed) because of cost and convenience. Before I was hired at my current large multicampus urban/suburban community college, I adjuncted for two years at a rural CC the next county over–even there, kids from ag-related families were a minority.

    My daughter is a student at Missouri State University (regional master’s in Springfield, MO)–there, the fastest-growing major is agriculture, in part because ag is big business in Missouri, and it is becoming increasingly dependent on technology and global markets. Maybe the rural kids find programs that let them work in their family businesses. Not many ag programs in the Ivies outside of Cornell, I bet.

    So this may be a problem that is more apparent than real.


  2. How do the finances work in college admissions? A farming family may own a great deal of land, and have periodically high income. However, there are also business loans to the farming business, and while year 1 might be great, years 2 & 3 could be terrible.

    So a farmer’s family might not qualify for income-based aid, but need such aid to attend college?


    1. That’s just a general problem with farming. You can average your income taxes over several years to minimize it, plus time your capital expenses to offset the high earning years. I don’t think it would be especially hard for farmers.


  3. I think it’s a great idea to have farm kids from the Midwest go to Ivy League schools. And farm kids from the South. Bring it on.

    In NY, the SUNYs are so good that many farm kids get great educations there. (Case in point: family friend who went to SUNY Oneonta and is now a successful in sales and marketing in Atlanta.) Also, Cornell has 3 colleges with a statutory commitment to bring in NYS residents, especially farm kids.


  4. Teaching at a regional comprehensive in the north, I can tell you that we see deep demographic divides in applications as well as acceptances. Some will never apply to study here because of location: they’re either really urban or rural in a far away area, where our location just doesn’t click. Sometimes it is the reputational issue – they don’t like our politics or our position in the standings or whatever. But a lot is what they are raised to consider: look to the families, the schools and the peers for a sense of what’s admirable as well as possible.

    tl;dr Columbia & NYC have a lot of black marks against them in some American contexts and that’s without considering the huge financial burdens that stand out to people looking at the list price of tuition.


  5. “tl;dr Columbia & NYC have a lot of black marks against them in some American contexts and that’s without considering the huge financial burdens that stand out to people looking at the list price of tuition.”

    I suspect the higher cost of living is also unappealing.


  6. The immigrant group with the highest rate of college attendance in the 19th and early 20th centuries were Scandinavians, except they all went to their own colleges in the Midwest. I went to an East Coast liberal arts school, and I got a lot of push back from the older generations about going to a WASP school instead of a Scandinavian-American school. Sometimes I feel people forget there are different systems of hierarchy that don’t place the Ivies and similar front and central. My understanding is Jesuit colleges can be similar.


    1. B.I. said,

      “My understanding is Jesuit colleges can be similar.”

      Or Notre Dame.

      People can also have rabid regional college loyalties (which in much of the US do seem to have a lot of overlap with football loyalties).


  7. As a longtime resident of a college town in the Midwest who is also one of those “you’re not from around here” people, I have a few observations/anecdotes:
    A lot of farm kids major in Ag and Ag-related fields which are abundantly available at midwestern land grant universities.
    They go home every weekend; it’s upsetting to their schedules when they can’t.
    Not having a vehicle (don’t call it a car!) is unthinkable. They don’t want to live somewhere without one.
    They get stressed out in city situations. And their definition of city is based on places like Cedar Rapids and Des Moines. My spouse takes kids on summer study abroad to Rome. Most of them grew up on farms. He’s figured out that it is necessary for their mental well being to have regular day trips where they can experience open space.
    They and their families feel strongly about the state universities. That’s what they pay taxes for, right? Also, gotta tailgate for the right team.
    Most of these kids won’t end up as family farmers but they will stick around here. Farmers need accountants, lawyers, vets, machinery and feed salespeople , etc.
    I’m sure their are a number of rural kids that would love to get away from here and do, but the ones that stay are happy with their choice. I don’t think they’d have it any other way.
    Fun fact: a friend takes students on a archaeology dig every summer in Greece. About half the kids are from here and the other half from Duke (or maybe UNC-Chapel Hill). She says the kids from here are better contributors because a) they know how to use tools, and b) they don’t complain about manual labor and know how to do it.


    1. I have a high school classmate talk to me about how he couldn’t live in the city because it wasn’t safe to raise kids in the city. The “city” was Lincoln.


    2. He’s figured out that it is necessary for their mental well being to have regular day trips where they can experience open space.

      They’re drinking. Most of the undergraduates are under 21 so they can’t go to bars.


      1. Tagore,Hey, if Brooks writes a good piece, he writes a good piece. That doesn’t mean he has not written partisan hack pieces before. Obviously he’s no Bill Kristol.


  8. “There is no legal drinking age in Greece if you are drinking in private. However, if you want to purchase alcohol and drink in public, you must be 18 years of age.”


  9. “They get stressed out in city situations. And their definition of city is based on places like Cedar Rapids and Des Moines. My spouse takes kids on summer study abroad to Rome. ”

    I feel the same way (except that my natural environment is a city like Cedar Rapids, or, maybe a city like Davis, CA). Just thinking about Rome sets all my nerves on fire. That understanding is one of the things that bugs me about these questions of rural/urban (blue/red, . . .) divides. And, I have no reason to believe that a kid born on the farm might not be a brilliant mathematician, and want her to have all the same resources to flower that talent as my kids do.


    1. My uncle and grandfather are math geniuses who were working class and mostly rural, and they just devote their considerable intelligence to inventing/designing as a hobby. They’ve both built homes from scratch, doing the design work, drafting and all the labor themselves. (I mean, really themselves). My grandfather had problems with his artificial hip, so he designed a superior prototype. He showed it to his doctor, who agreed it was mechanically a better design, but he wasn’t about to install an untested self-designed prototype in my grandfather. (If my grandfather could have performed hip surgery on himself, he would have.) My grandfather also invented a car-sized lefse machine, which produced mass quantities of lefse (a Norwegian potato-flour flat bread). You put the raw ingredients in one end and it did the entire process. He was dissatisfied with it because it produced oval lefse, instead of round lefse.

      My brother is also a math genius, but also went to college. In college he was heavily recruited by NSA and Wall Street, but ended up in Silicon Valley. He does artificial intelligence and is being heavily recruited by google.


      1. I bet Iowa is a good place to sell mass quantities of lefse. They’ll eat about anything there, so long as it doesn’t have any flavoring besides salt and sugar.


      2. I shouldn’t make too much fun of the “dump a bunch of sugar” tendency. One thing that I noticed is that I can no longer eat Chinese food in Nebraska. In Nebraska, they dump sweet and sour sauce on every dish regardless of the name.


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