Ross Douthat's recent op ed in the New York Times on the disadvantages that poor and middle-class whites experience in college admissions (that is, their lower rates of it) raises some interesting issues for philanthropy in rural America. Ross writes about the "lack of contact with rural, working class America" among the "highly educated and liberal" population. It made me think of a journalist friend from New York who recently returned from a reporting trip in Appalachia. He told me that he had never seen white people that poor before.
The fact that white poverty is not as close to Northeastern elites as black poverty is has some effect on where philanthropic dollars go.
In recent years, there has been more attention focused on rural philanthropy and the gap that has emerged between how much philanthropy is received by rural communities vs. urban ones. Here's how a 2007 Wall Street Journal article sums it up.
The gap between urban and rural philanthropy can be seen both in the location of foundation assets and who gets their money. Montana ranks 48th nationally in foundation assets, with $23 per capita compared with the national average of $108, says the Big Sky Institute for the Advancement of Nonprofits in Helena, using figures from the Foundation Center's 2006 Foundation Yearbook. And a recent study by the Foundation Center shows that some states with significant rural areas get vastly less foundation money than more-urban states. (The study examined grants from most of the 1,000 largest foundations.) In 2005, North Dakota was awarded $3.3 million, South Dakota $3.2 million and Montana $10 million -- compared with $3 billion for New York and $2 billion for California.
There has been a big push for green jobs in rural areas and greater broadband access and job retraining and health care access. But--to get back to Ross's topic--education in these areas is in tremendous need of improvement. If you look at a list of how the 50 states are doing in education, places like Mississippi and Arkansas are typically at the bottom of it.
I found out during a recent interview with Wendy Kopp, head of Teach for America, that they have made particular strides in getting corps members into the Mississippi Delta. Improving K-12 education in rural areas is, of course, the best way to improve college admissions for these populations. So let me recommend this article from TFA's alumni magazine about education reform in a rural area.