Texas Tech University

The Role of Place: A Report on the Demographic Setting of Texas Tech University

The role of place in policy discussions is, according to a recent report on “Education Deserts” by the American Council on Education, often underemphasized. Vast stretches of the Midwest and plains states are termed education deserts by the measures used in their report, including much of the South Plains region where Texas Tech University is situated. If place is generally important across the nation, it is higher still in the lower density regions of the country, where choices are fewer. For many students on the South Plains, if they do not attend or transfer to Texas Tech University (TTU), they will not attend a four-year university at all.

As such, the College of Arts & Sciences has begun to compile data and visualizations that will hopefully prove relevant to regional grantwriting. A point of pride for TTU has been our rapid ascent in rankings of research activity, as evidenced by our inclusion in the last few years on the Carnegie Foundation's list, "R1: Doctoral Universities – Highest Research Activity." This serves as an excellent basis for understanding just how remarkable this achievement is. Using the Circular Area Profiles tool built by the Missouri Census Data Center to scrape 2016 ACS data in a 100-mile radius around each of the universities on the list, the South Plains region surrounding Texas Tech University was compared to the geographic context of other top-tier research universities.

Before getting to the results, a few caveats should be mentioned. A 100-mile radius is well-suited to the scale of much of much of the West and midwest, where distances can be large and cities widely spaced. Traveling 100 miles from Lubbock, Texas in a northern direction fails to bring one to Amarillo, the only city of significant size directly north of TTU; likewise, 100 miles to the south does not bring one to Midland/Odessa. In light of this reality and a College Board study showing the median distance from home traveled by American students to their college of choice to be 94 miles, 100 miles seemed a somewhat arbitrary but appropriate measure. One can instantly spot that it is less well-suited to parsing between universities situated on densely populated regions of the east or west coast, where two main issues arise. With ocean areas excluded from demographic calculation, coastal cities present a region of study that is unavoidably closer to half-circle than a full circle (and census data being only provided for the USA, the circular area profile of a coastal border city such as UC San Diego further narrows to a wedge). At the same time, 100 miles in areas with a high density of cities may encompass too many different regions to be particularly meaningful in differentiating between broadly similar results. A more sophisticated analysis would take into account commute times and other factors.

So, with these caveats, let's take a look at some top/bottom ten lists for the broader regions of all 115 Carnegie Highest-Research-Activity universities in the United States. You may also download a full spreadsheet with these and other results.

 Most Rural (100-mile radius; 2016 ACS; reverse sort population density per square mile)

1. Texas Tech University (23.2 people per square mile)
2. Washington State University (33.3 people per square mile)
3. University of New Mexico-Main Campus (37.8 people per square mile)
4. Kansas State University (43.2 people per square mile)
5. Iowa State University (53.8 people per square mile)
6. University of Nebraska-Lincoln (55.6 people per square mile)
7. University of Missouri-Columbia (62.2 people per square mile)
8. University of Iowa (65.2 people per square mile)
9. Florida State University (68.6 people per square mile)
10. University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus (75.0 people per square mile)
106.  University of California-San Diego (1241.5 people per square mile)
107.  University of Pennsylvania (1282.3 people per square mile)
108.  Temple University (1296.4 people per square mile)
109.  Yale University (1307.0 people per square mile)
110.  Princeton University (1388.8 people per square mile)
111.  Rutgers University-New Brunswick (1394.2 people per square mile)
112.  Columbia University in the City of New York (1406.0 people per square mile)
113.  CUNY Graduate School and University Center (1436.4 people per square mile)
114.  New York University (1442.7 people per square mile)
115.  Stony Brook University (1493.9 people per square mile)

 Lowest Rate of Educational Attainment (100-mile radius; 2016 ACS; reverse sort percent population with bachelor's degree or more)

1.  Texas Tech University (20.4%)
2.  Florida State University (21.1%)
3.  University of Tennessee-Knoxville (22.0%)
4.  University of Mississippi (22.2%)
5.  Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State (22.7%)
6.  Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus (22.7%)
7.  Louisiana State University (23.0%)
8.  Case Western Reserve University (23.1%)
9.  University of Arkansas (23.5%)
10.  Tulane University of Lousiana (24.2%)
106.  University of Connecticut (38.4%)
107.  Virginia Commonwealth University (38.7%)
108.  University of Maryland-College Park (39.0%)
109.  University of California-Santa Cruz (39.2%)
110.  George Washington University (39.2%)
111.  Georgetown University (39.3%)
112.  George Mason University (39.6%)
113.  University of Colorado Boulder (40.3%)
114.  Colorado State University-Fort Collins (41.0%)
115.  University of Virginia-Main Campus (41.4%)

Highest Agricultural Employment (100-mile radius; 2016 ACS; sort agricultural employment)

1.  Texas Tech University (10.2%)
2.  University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus (5.3%)
3.  Washington State University (4.7%)
4.  Louisiana State University (4.6%)
5.  Iowa State University (3.9%)
6.  Rice University (3.8%)
7.  University of Houston (3.8%)
8.  University of Iowa (3.5%)
9.  University of Nebraska-Lincoln (3.4%)
10.  University of Oregon (3.4%)
106. University of Pennsylvania (0.5%)
107. Temple University (0.5%)
108. University of Connecticut (0.4%)
109. Princeton University (0.4%)
110. Rutgers University-New Brunswick (0.4%)
111. Yale University (0.3%)
112. Columbia University in the City of New York (0.3%)
113. CUNY Graduate School and University Center (0.3%)
114. New York University (0.3%)
115. Stony Brook University (0.3%)

 Highest Hispanic Population (100-mile radius; 2016 ACS; sort percent Hispanic population)

1.  University of New Mexico-Main Campus (48.7%)
2.  University of California-San Diego (45.9%)
3.  University of California-Los Angeles (45.1%)
4.  California Institute of Technology (44.8%)
5.  University of California-Santa Barbara (44.7%)
6.  University of Southern California (44.7%)
7.  University of California-Irvine (43.8%)
8.  University of California-Riverside (43.5%)
9.  Texas Tech University (42.2%)
10.  University of Miami (41.6%)
106.  Case Western Reserve University (4.0%)
107.  University of Cincinnati-Main Campus (3.6%)
108.  University of Louisville (3.4%)
109.  University of Kentucky (3.2%)
110.  University of Missouri-Columbia (2.9%)
111.  Ohio State University-Main Campus (2.8%)
112.  Washington University in St Louis (2.6%)
113.  West Virginia University (1.6%)
114.  Carnegie Mellon University (1.6%)
115.  University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Camp (1.6%)

Putting these numbers side by side makes it clear why they were worth collecting in the first place. Whether Texas Tech University is truly the most rural highest-research-activity university in the country is a subjective question; it depends on how you define rural and draw the boundaries. It is likewise unlikely that we would get absolute consensus on Stony Brook University being the single most urban university in the country. Yet seeing the top-and-bottom-ten lists side by side present a clear picture of vastly different worlds. What we can say with absolute confidence is that Texas Tech University is located in one of the most rural regions in the country, with one of the highest rates of agricultural activity; one of the lowest levels of educational attainment; and one of the highest Hispanic populations.