Rural education the focus for College of Education center

June 08, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With nearly 97 percent of the United States geographically classified as rural, it is increasingly important to conduct research that guides policy in rural education. At Penn State, the associates with the Center on Rural Education and Communities (CREC) are leading that research.

Established in 2003, CREC was developed through a collaboration between the College of EducationChildren, Youth and Families Consortium; and Social Science Research Institute to address the lack of research in the area of rural education and communities. Thirteen years later, it now houses the Journal of Research in Rural Education, the leading peer-reviewed academic journal on rural education issues both nationally and internationally, and consists of multiple research associates, affiliates and graduate student associates.  

“Our work is highly interdisciplinary and focuses on issues at the intersection of the well-being of schools and the communities they serve,” said Kai Schafft, director of CREC and associate professor of educational leadership and rural sociology. “In the last four to five years, the center has been doing work focused on the impacts of shale gas development in Pennsylvania and the implications for rural schools and communities.”

The effects of shale gas development have been a “game changer” in rural education research, Schafft said, adding that studies from this initiative have been published in The Peabody Journal of Education, Rural Sociology, Society and Natural Resources, and Human Organization. CREC also has collaborated with the Pennsylvania School Study Council to host a conference that focuses on the implications of shale gas development for rural schools and communities.

“We’ve found that local schools can be a powerful lens for understanding community impacts (of shale gas development)," Schafft said.

“In the United States, approximately 12.4 million children attend public schools in rural areas — that’s nearly one-quarter of the total public school enrollment nationwide,” he said. “And yet, rural schools and rural education are typically overlooked within both policy arenas and academic scholarship.”

As CREC continues to support rural education and communities through research, the researchers are making efforts to expand their work to international locations, including hosting a Hungarian Fulbright scholar.

“The activities of CREC are motivated by the desire to re-center rural issues that are critical to the well-being of rural people, communities and schools in the United States, and indeed around the globe,” Schafft said.

Additional current research and outreach initiatives of CREC include Charter Schools’ Impacts on Rural School Developments; and Rural High School Student Aspirations and College Success for Rural Youth. Past initiatives included Obesity, Child Health Outcomes and Farm-to-School Working Group; Poverty, Housing Insecurity and Student Transiency in Rural Areas; Broadband Access and Rural School and Community Development; and Partnering to Strengthen Rural Indian Education.

To learn more about the Center on Rural Education and Communities, visit or contact Kai Schafft at

Last Updated June 08, 2016