The locations of college campuses can be a reflection of a bygone America. Most universities were founded generations ago, when rural communities were thriving and when traveling across a state to a larger urban campus was more complicated. As people moved toward cities and the Sun Belt, and as cars and planes connected the country, many rural universities have fallen on hard times.
“There is and ought to be a bit of a scramble to redefine and resituate themselves,” said David Tandberg, a vice president for the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. “There’s nothing they can do about birthrates. That’s something they have no control about. So it’s opening up different markets and offering different services.”