In our previous posts, Exploring the “Some college, no bachelors” degree population and Educational Attainment in Texas, we reviewed national and state-level trends related to educational attainment levels of adults (25 and older). This final post in the three-part series narrows the focus within Texas even further, drilling down to county-level data specifically related to the “Some College, No Bachelors” degree population in Texas.
While the trends presented in the previous posts are important to provide context, the primary group of interest in this blog post is the “Some College, No Bachelors” degree population of adults (25 or older). One of the long-held concerns related to higher education has been access, one of the components in what some in the higher education policy community have deemed the “Iron Triangle” combination of Cost, Access, and Quality. While access to higher education can be defined in different ways, geographic proximity to campus is one of the primary methodologies.
In order to examine the extent to which this group of adults have geographic access to public higher education in Texas, county-level educational attainment data were pulled from the 2018 5-year ACS database. While certainly more fine-grain data are available through the ACS, county-level data provide a means for exploring trends in a geographic context that is more well-known and understandable than census tracks or census blocks.
We used the geographic parameters provided in the ACS data to calculate a centroid for each county. An “as the crow flies” distance measurement in miles was then calculated to determine the distance from each county centroid to each public university in Texas. For the purposes of this analysis, any county that had a centroid within 50 miles of a public university was considered to be fully within that distance radius, even though portions of that county may reside beyond the 50-mile distance.
With those parameters in mind, the data show that 165 of the 254 counties in Texas are located within a 50-mile radius of at least one public university in the state. While accounting for 65-percent of the total number of counties in Texas, the population of these counties located within the 50-mile distance metric represented approximately 95-percent of the almost 29 million Texans estimated in the 2018 ACS data. With such an overwhelming percentage of the population residing in these counties, it should come as no surprise that the vast majority of adults in the “Some College, No Bachelors” degree category also reside within 50 miles of a public university campus.
Approximately 5.15 million (29 percent) adults (25 and older) in Texas have some college, but no bachelors degree. When combining the radius measurement with educational attainment data at the county level, we find that 4.9 million (95 percent) of those adults (25 or older) in the “Some College, No Bachelors” degree category live within 50 miles of a Texas public university. Expanding the radius circle to 75 miles shows that more than 99 percent of adults (25 or older) live within 75 miles of a public university in Texas.
The map below highlights 165 counties within the 50-mile radius of at least one Texas public university. The points/shapes represent the public universities in Texas and are color-coded based on their system affiliation, as shown in the legend on the bottom right below the map. By way of explanation, the current four public independent institutions in Texas are grouped together for convenience. The counties are shaded in the color associated with the system of the nearest public university campus, meaning that counties within 50 miles of more than one institution are only represented by the color of the nearest university.
Additional data are embedded within the map below through the use of a tooltip. Hovering over a county with the cursor on your computer, or clicking on a state if you are using a touch-based device, will launch a pop-up tooltip that includes more data. The top portion of the tooltip will show which county was selected, nearest public university campus, the system affiliation of that campus, the total number of adults (25 or older) in the county. The bottom portion of the tooltip shows a full breakdown of highest level of educational attainment across the four categories used in this blog post: “Less than HS diploma,” “HS Diploma or GED,” “Some College, No Bachelors Degree,” and “Bachelors or Higher.” Adding these four categories together will equal total in the top portion of the tooltip. If you would like to see data for all counties, select the “All” checkbox located in the “Within 50” dropdown menu at the bottom left below the map.
From the fall semester of 2014 to fall 2019, THECB’s data show that statewide enrollment of undergraduates in Texas’s public universities rose by over 53,000 students from 474,771 to 528,117. When disaggregated by age group, the number and proportion of undergraduates who are 25 years or older has decreased during that time period. There were 87,210 adults (25 and older) enrolled as undergraduates in 2014, and 81,925 in 2019, as the overall representation of this group fell from 18.4 percent of undergraduates in 2014 to 15.5 percent in 2019.
By contrast, ACS data from 2014 and 2018 show that the estimated number of adults (25 or older) in Texas with “Some College, No Bachelors” degree has increased over 347,000 from 4.8 million in 2014 to 5.2 million in 2018. With almost 5 million adults (25 or older) in Texas having “Some College, No Bachelors” degree and living within 50 miles of a Texas public university, this segment of the population serves as a prime opportunity for Texas public universities to not only grow their undergraduate enrollments, but also to increase the levels of educational attainment which can support economic growth within the regions served by Texas public universities.
The next sequence of blog posts will present data from a study of Historically Underserved Student (HUS) population. Using a variety of methodologies, we will explore the complex combination of characteristics of HUS students that goes beyond single-variable identifiers (e.g., minority student status or PELL eligibility) and various outcomes of interest to the higher education community.