Small Colleges Can Save Towns in Middle America

Noah Smith:

In 2016, economist Lyman Stone of the U.S. Department of Agriculture wrote one of the most important blog posts in recent history. It was promptly overlooked by almost everyone. But Stone’s post — a deep dive into the economics of the small town of Pikeville, Kentucky — shows the way forward for the U.S. economy and American society.

Pikeville, with about 7,000 people, is located deep in Appalachia near the West Virginia border — the same kind of poor, dying coal-mining region described in books like J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy.” But as Stone shows, Pikeville has been bucking this well-known trend, with an increasing population and a thriving downtown. Why? Because of the University of Pikeville. The University of Pikeville has fewer than 3,000 students, and it won’t show up on many elite college applicants’ top 10 lists alongside Stanford and Harvard. But since the turn of the decade, this tiny school has been expanding dramatically: