The Center on Rural Education and Communities (CREC) conducts and supports both research and outreach activities that address rural education and community-related issues in Pennsylvania, the nation, and the world. CREC is directed by Kai A. Schafft, Professor of Education and Rural Sociology, Educational Leadership Program, Department of Education Policy Studies. 

Kai Schafft

The mission of the Center on Rural Education and Communities is fivefold:

(1) To foster nationally significant interdisciplinary research and outreach activities that benefit rural education (from early childhood through adult education), help meet the needs of rural communities, and assist rural schools and their communities in attaining and nurturing educational excellence while advancing our college’s justice-oriented, anti-racist, and equity-based goals;

(2) To act as a convener and bridge between rural schools and communities across Pennsylvania and beyond;

(3) To serve as a clearinghouse for disseminating information about Penn State's numerous programs and initiatives, and those of others, that benefit rural education, rural schools, families and communities;

(4) To initiate and support national and international alliances that leverage resources and expertise for conducting research and outreach activities of significance for rural education and communities; and

(5) To advance applications of technology in meeting the professional development and leadership/community development needs of rural schools and communities.

The Center on Rural Education and Communities (CREC) is directed by Kai Schafft, Professor of Education and Rural Sociology, Educational Leadership Program, Penn State Department of Education Policy Studies. 


CREC Associates include faculty and researchers whose work is consistent with the mission and research/outreach goals of the Center for Rural Education and Communities and who are directly involved with recent and/or ongoing CREC initiatives. Associates also serve as editorial board members for the Journal of Research in Rural Education. Terms for Associates are 3 years in duration and may be renewed depending on the continued involvement of Associates in CREC efforts. 


CREC Graduate Student Associates include doctoral graduate students whose graduate work and interests are consistent with the mission and research/outreach goals of the Center on Rural Education and Communities, and who are intellectually involved with the community of scholarship associated with the Center.  CREC Graduate Student Associates are often directly involved with ongoing CREC research efforts and initiatives and may be called on to serve as ad hoc reviewers for the Journal of Research in Rural Education. CREC Graduate Student Associates status is not limited to doctoral students within the Department of Education Policy Studies, although CREC does provide faculty support to those students who are interested in receiving Departmental support for rural-themed writing groups. 


CREC Affiliates include faculty and researchers whose work is consistent with the mission and research/outreach goals of the Center for Rural Education and Communities.  They provide advice on and assistance with CREC initiatives as needed. 



Faculty Associates 


Kathryn Brasier 
Professor of Rural Sociology 
Penn State University 


Soo-yong Byun 
Professor of Education 
Penn State University 


Karen Eppley 
Associate Professor of Education 
Penn State University 
Ed Fuller 
Associate Professor of Education 
Penn State University 
Erica Frankenberg 
Professor of Education 
Penn State University 


Matt Kelly 

Assistant Professor of Education 
Penn State University 


Rebecca Tarlau 
Associate Professor of Education & Labor & Employment Relations 
Penn State University 



Graduate Student Associates 


Josh Almes 

Ph.D. student, Educational Leadership 
Penn State University 


Betsy Boggs 

Ph.D. student, Educational Leadership 
Penn State University 


Katie Dulaney 

Ph.D. Candidate, Educational Theory and Policy 
Penn State University 


Beth Howd 

Ph.D. student, Educational Leadership 
Penn State University 


Annie Maselli 
Ph.D. student, Educational Leadership 
Penn State University 





Theodore R. Alter 
Professor of Agricultural, Environmental and Regional Economics 
Penn State University 
Stephan J. Goetz 
Professor of Agricultural and Regional Economics 
Director of NE Regional Center for Rural Development 
Penn State University 

Tim Kelsey 
Professor of Agricultural Economics 
Penn State University 


Kimberly Powell 
Professor of Education & Art Education 
Penn State University 


Alaina Pearce

Assistant Research Professor

Social Science Research Institute


Hobart L. Harmon 
Educational Researcher and Consultant 
Adjunct Professor of Education 
Penn State University 


Dana Mitra 
Professor of Education 
Penn State University 


David Monk 
Professor of Education 
Penn State University 


Esther Prins 
Professor of Education 
Penn State University 



Past CREC Graduate Student Associates 


Jessica Bagdonis 
Human & Institutional Capacity Development Advisor 
U.S. Agency for International Development 


Catharine Biddle 
Associate Professor 
University of Maine, Orono 


Dara Bloom 
Associate Professor 
North Carolina State University 


Yetkin Borlu 
Sociology Content Editor 
American Institutes for Research 


Ian Burfoot-Rochford 

Program Manager, Educational Access and Equity at Dartmouth Center for Social Impact 

Dartmouth College 


Eryka Charley 
Director of Native American Student Services 
University of Northern Colorado 


Brandn Green 
Research Scientist & Project Manager 
JG Research and Evaluation 


Eric Jensen 
Senior Technical Expert for Demographic Analysis 
U.S. Census Bureau 


Maraki Kebede 

Independent Researcher 


Stephen Kotok 
Assistant Professor 
Saint John's University 


Erin McHenry-Sorber 
Associate Professor 
University of West Virginia 


Bryan Mann 
Assistant Professor 
University of Kansas 


Chi Nguyen 
Assistant Professor 
University of Arizona 


Daniella Hall Sutherland  
Assistant Professor 
Clemson University 


CREC News and Updates


The Center on Rural Education and Communities Partners with PARSS to Announce the 2023 Building Community Award


The Center on Rural Education and Communities (CREC) and the Pennsylvania Association for Rural and Small Schools (PARSS) announce the 2023 annual Building Community through Rural Education Award. CREC and PARSS will select one award-winner and two honorable mentions, recognizing rural schools or districts that have distinguished themselves through innovative practices that contribute to the educational experiences for the students they serve, while reaching out to the broader community in which they are located. This recognition will be presented jointly by CREC and PARSS at the PARSS Annual Meeting in April in State College, Pennsylvania. Award application materials may be accessed here. (January, 2023)


Former CREC Student Associates Co-Author National Rural Education Center’s (NREA) Five-Year Research Agenda


The National Rural Education Association (NREA) released its National Rural Education Association Research Agenda 2022–2027. The agenda charts a five-year research path for rural education with the goal of shedding light on innovative rural practices, addressing unique rural challenges, and continuing to build on the strengths of rural people and places. Prepared by a subcommittee for NREA's Research and Higher Education Committee, including former CREC Graduate Student Associates, Dr. Erin McHenry-Sorber (University of West Virginia), and Dr. Catharine Biddle (University of Maine, Orono) the agenda was guided by research data collected from a broad representation of rural education stakeholders. On the research agenda, Allen Pratt, Executive Director of NREA states, “This research agenda provides a powerful tool to help ensure rural strengths are recognized and inequities are understood and addressed.” (November 2022)


New Report: COVID-19 and Educational Equity in Rural Pennsylvania School Districts


The Center for Rural Pennsylvania released the report, “Analyzing the Effects of COVID-19 on Educational Equity in Rural Pennsylvania School Districts.” The report is co-authored by Center Director, Kai A. Schafft, and Graduate Student Rural Center Affiliates Annie Maselli, Katharine Dulaney, Laura E. Pirkle Howd, and Betsy Boggs, as well as Faculty Affiliates, Matthew Gardner Kelly, and Erica Frankenberg. David A. Gamson, and Ashley N. Patterson also contributed to the report. This study used a mixed methods approach combining state-level institutional secondary data and local interview, case study, and school district data. Even before COVID-19, public schools in rural Pennsylvania were confronted with a range of serious challenges including. The report finds that the COVID-19 pandemic has served to deepen multiple forms of inequities and challenges including persistent poverty, funding disparities, lack of broadband access, and declining enrollments. These have posed pressing challenges for the creation of timely and effective policy. Although districts have devised creative ways to address the social-emotional and physical health needs of students and families, a majority of rural districts reported that they don't currently have the resources to meet their students’ growing demand for mental health services. Rural districts have experienced higher rates of teacher attrition and greater enrollment losses than urban districts; these losses have strained already overburdened staff and budgets. (August, 2022)



Matthew Kelly and Kai Schafft Win Outstanding Article Award


CREC Associate Matthew Kelly and Center Director Kai Schafft have won the Rabel J. Burdge and Donald R. Field Outstanding Article Award, for best general research article published in Volume 34 (2021) of Society & Natural Resources. The SNR Award Committee felt that “A ‘Resource Curse’ for Education?: Deepening Education Disparities in Pennsylvania’s Shale Gas Boomtowns” (vol. 34, no. 1, pp. 23-39) was innovative and provided the most meaningful contribution to the study of society and natural resources. Society & Natural Resources is the flagship journal of the International Association for Society and Natural Resources and one of the leading natural resources sociology journals. It publishes 12 issues per year, publishing over 80 empirical articles in 2021. (March, 2022)


Interview with Maraki Kebede, Former CREC Graduate Student Associate.


Click here for an interview with former CREC Graduate Student Associate Dr. Maraki Kebede (Educational Leadership, ’20) about her experiences at Penn State University, the Comparative and International Education Program, and the Educational Leadership Program. (February, 2022)



OP-ED on Rural Teacher Recruitment and Retention.


CREC Graduate Student Associate, Annie Maselli just published an op-ed with David DeMatthews from the University of Texas, Austin on rural teacher recruitment and retention needs and implications for educational provision and policy. A version of this op-ed appeared in the Austin American Statesman, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Abilene Reporter News, Amarillo Globe News, MSN and the San Antonio Express News. (February, 2022)


Myths and Realities of Living in Rural America: Rural Matters Podcast.


CREC Director, Kai Schafft joins John Pender (USDA Economic Research Service), Mark Partridge (Swank Chair, Rural-Urban Policy, Ohio State University, and Brock Slabach (National Rural Health Association) for a discussion about rural realities in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Robert Wood Johnson supported podcast, Rural Matters. (January 2022)


New Grant From Center for Rural Pennsylvania on Cyber Charters.


The Center for Rural Pennsylvania has just awarded Center Associate Karen Eppley, CREC Director Kai Schafft and Graduate Student Associate Annie Maselli $50,000 to study changes in cyber charter school enrollments in Pennsylvania, the impacts on rural school districts, and parental motivations for enrolling children in cyber charter schools. A particular focus is on how the COVID-19 pandemic may have affected these enrollment decisions. This research will run through the 2022 calendar year. (January, 2022)



CREC Partners with PARSS to Offer 2022 Building Community Award.


The Center for Rural Education and Communities has partnered with the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS) to offer the Building Community Award to a rural school or school district that demonstrates innovative practices by both strengthening education and rural community well-being. The announcement of the winner will occur at the PARSS Annual Meeting in State College PA in early May (January, 2022)



Research Brief on Segregation in Rural School Districts.


Educational Leadership Graduate and former CREC Graduate Student Associate, Maraki Kebede (Educational Leadership, ’20), along with CREC Graduate Student Associate Annie Maselli, Kendra Taylor, and CREC Associate Erica Frankenberg released a research brief jointly published by the Center for Education and Civil Rights and the Center on Rural Education and Communities entitled Segregation in Rural School Districts Persists Despite Rising Ethnoracial Diversity. (August, 2021)



CREC Director Kai A. Schafft Co-Edits Special Issue of Rural Sociology on “Rurality, Race, and Ethnicity.”


CREC Director Kai Schafft has co-edited, along with Ian Carrillo and Katrina Quisumbing-King, a special issue of Rural Sociology focused on rurality, race, and ethnicity. This special issue includes seven content articles on a variety of topics, including three articles on various contexts of rural education. Authors include former CREC Graduate Student Associates Bryan Mann, and Maraki Kebede, as well as CREC Graduate Student Associate Annie Maselli, and CREC Associate Erica Frankenberg. (August, 2021)



CREC Director Kai A. Schafft Marks End of Rural Sociological Society Presidency with Presidential Address, “Rurality and Crises of Democracy.”  


The Annual Meeting of the Rural Sociological Society was held Aug. 3-7, 2022 for the first time virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. RSS President and CREC Director Kai A. Schafft delivered his presidential address, Rurality and Crises of Democracy: What Can Rural Sociology Offer the Present Moment? which explores both the explanations for the growing ideological and spatial divides in the United States and the theoretical and methodological implications. (August 2021)



New Book: Rural Youth at the Crossroads.


Routledge has just published Rural Youth at the Crossroads: Transitional Societies in Central Europe and Beyond. Co-edited by CREC Director Kai A. Schafft, along with CREC Graduate Student Affiliate Annie Maselli, and Renata Horvatek, and Sanja Stanic, this work is an edited volume exploring rural youth and community development within international contexts in Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Czechia, Russia, Romania, Hungary, and Vietnam. Former CREC Graduate Student Associate Chi Nguyen also contributed a chapter to this volume. This work had its beginnings in collaborative work between Penn State and the University of Split, Croatia, work funded in part through Penn State Global Programs. (March, 2021)


New Book: The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rural Education in the United States.


CREC faculty Associate Karen Eppley has co-edited, along with Amy Price Azano (Virginia Tech), and former CREC Graduate Student Associate Catharine Biddle (University of Maine, Orono) The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rural Education in the United States. The handbook includes chapters by CREC Director, Kai Schafft, CREC faculty Associate Soo-yong Byun, Graduate Student Associate Annie Maselli, and former CREC Graduate Student Associates Daniella Hall Sutherland and Catharine Biddle. (October, 2021)

Current Initiatives

  • Schooling, Agrarian Change, and Rural Development

  • Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Development

  • Charter Schools' Impacts on Rural School Developments

  • Rural High School Student Aspirations & College Success for Rural Youth

Previous Initiatives

  • 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

  • Partnering to Strengthen Rural Indian Education

Selected Publications

Books and Chapters

  • Schafft, K.A., Stanić, S., Horvatek, R., & Maselli, A. (Eds.) (2021). Rural youth at the crossroads: Transitional societies in Central Europe and beyond. New York: Routledge.

  • Brown, D. L., & Schafft, K. A. (2019). Rural People and Communities in the 21st Century Resilience and Transformation (2nd ed.). Cambridge, UK: Polity.

  • Kebede, M. (2018). Immigration, race, and rurality: Educational experiences of Black African immigrants in rural America. In R. M. Reardon & J. Leonard (Eds.), Making a Positive Impact in Rural Places: Change Agency in the Context of School-University-Community Collaboration in Education (pp. 79-100). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

  • Biddle, C., & Mette, I. (2017). Education and information. In A. R. Tickamyer, J. Sherman, & J. Warlick (Eds.), Rural Poverty in the United States (pp. 322-348). New York: Columbia University Press.

  • Lichter, D. T., & Schafft, K. A. (2016). Rural people and places left behind: Poverty and spatial inequality in the new century. In D. Brady & L. Burton (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of the Social Science Poverty (pp. 317-340). New York: Oxford University Press.

  • Killeen, K., & Schafft, K. (2015). The organizational and fiscal implications of transient student populations in urban and rural areas. In H. F. Ladd & E. B. Fiske (Eds.), Handbook of Research in Education Finance and Policy, Revised Second Edition (pp. 623-663). New York: Routledge.

  • Schafft, K. A., & Biddle, C. (2014). Education and schooling in rural America. In C. Bailey, L. Jensen, & E. Ransom (Eds.), Rural America in a Globalizing World: Problems and Prospects for the 2010s (pp. 556-572). Morgantown: West Virginia University Press.

Journal Articles

  • Peine, E., Azano, A., & Schafft, K.A. (2020) Beyond cultural and structural explanations of regional underdevelopment: Identity and dispossession in Appalachia. Journal of Appalachian Studies, 26(1), 40-56.

  • Kelly, M, & Schafft, K.A. (2020) A “resource curse” for education?: School funding disparities in Pennsylvania’s shale gas boomtowns. Society & Natural Resources. DOI: 10.1080/08941920.2020.1728000

  • Schafft, K.A., Brasier, K.B., & Hesse, A. (2019). Reconceptualizing rapid energy resource development and its impacts: Thinking regionally, spatially and intersectionally. Journal of Rural Studies, 68, 296-305.

  • Schafft, K.A., McHenry-Sorber, E., Hall, D., & Burfoot-Rochford, I. (2018). Busted Amidst the Boom: The Creation of New Insecurities and Inequalities within Pennsylvania’s Shale Gas Boomtowns. Rural Sociology, 38(3), 503-531.

  • Burfoot-Rochford, I., & Schafft, K.A. (2018). Mobilities, fixities and stabilities in rural Pennsylvania’s natural gas boomtowns: Reconceptualising boomtown development through a mobilities lens. Sociologia Ruralis 58(1), 171-189. DOI: 10.1111/soru.12182

  • Eppley, K., Azano, A., Brenner, D., & Shannon, P. (2018). "What counts as evidence in rural schools? Evidence-based practice and practice-based evidence for diverse settings." The Rural Educator, 39(2), 36-40.

  • McHenry-Sorber, E., & Budge, K. (2018). "Rethinking the rural superintendency: Rethinking guiding theories for contemporary practice." Journal of Research in Rural Education, 33(3).

  • Biddle, C., & Azano, A. (2016). "Constructing and reconstructing the 'rural school problem': A century of rural education research." Review of Research in Education, 40(1), 298-325.

  • Mette, I., Biddle, C., Mackenzie, S., & Harris-Smedberg, K. (2016). "Poverty, privilege, and political dynamics within rural school reform: Unraveling educational leadership in the invisible America." Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership, 19(3), 62-84.

  • Schafft, K. (2016). "Rural education as rural development: Understanding the rural school-community well-being linkage in a 21st-century policy context." Peabody Journal of Education, 91(2), 137-154.

  • McHenry-Sorber, E., & Schafft, K. (2015). "'Make my day, shoot a teacher': Tactics of inclusion and exclusion, and the contestation of community in a rural school-community conflict." International Journal of Inclusive Education, 19(7), 733-747.

The Journal of Research in Rural Education is a peer-reviewed, open access e-journal publishing original pieces of scholarly research of demonstrable relevance to educational issues within rural settings. JRRE was established in 1982 by the University of Maine College of Education and Human Development. In 2008, JRRE moved to the Center on Rural Education and Communities, located within Penn State University’s College of Education. It is currently edited by Karen Eppley with associate editors Kai Schafft, Jerry Johnson, and Mara Tieken.

Academic Units

Centers, Institutes, & Councils

Resources for Pennsylvania


Regional and National Resources

Academic Associations, Initiatives, & Professional Associations

Consortiums, Non-Profit Groups & Other Organizations

Governmental / Public Sector Organizations

Indian Education

Professional Associations

While there is no one agreed-upon definition for what constitutes "rural," most methods of classifying territory along an urban-rural continuum make reference to population size and density, level of urbanization, and/or the relationship to urbanized areas in terms of economic activity, commuting patterns, and so on.  Adequately representing the economic, social and demographic diversity of rural areas in the United States remains a substantial challenge in developing criteria for determining what areas are rural.  However, the various definitions used have real consequences for people and public policy.

The following links offer varied definitions and understandings as to what, exactly, rural is. These definitions range from purely quantifiable measures, to subjective discussions of self perception and provide only a sampling of answers to the question, "What is Rural?"

What is Rural?
The Rural Health Information Hub (2018)
RHIhub's topic and state guides bring together key resources and information. This guide focuses on identifying and describing the various federal definitions and classification schemes for rural in current use, and to help users find the appropriate rural definition for program planning, policymaking, and research.

Rural Health Grant Eligibility Analyzer
The Rural Health Information Hub (2018)
Developed by the Rural Health Information Hub, this tool will help determine whether a specific location is considered rural based on various definitions of rural, including definitions that are used as eligibility criteria for federal programs.

Rural Pennsylvania: Where is it Anyway?
Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health (2014)
The Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health provides an excellent summary of how rural is defined, with a particular emphasis on what this means for Pennsylvanian people and communities.

What is Rural?
United States Department of Agriculture (2016)
This article, provided by the National Agricultural Library's Rural Information Center, provides a wealth of research and documentation attempting to define exactly what "rural" is. While the primary focus is on Federal definitions of rural, links are provided to other points of view as well.

Rural Classifications: Rural Overview
Rural Classifications Overview (2018)
This page highlights the ERS key county classifications that measure rurality and assess the economic and social diversity of rural America beyond the metro/nonmetro dichotomy. The Rural-Urban Continuum Codes and Urban Influence Codes are part of a suite of data products for rural analysis available in this topic.

Defining Rural at the U.S. Census Bureau
U.S. Census Bureau (2016)
This brief highlights the history of delineating rural at the Census Bureau, the current delineations of urban/ rural areas, and the relationship that exists between decennial censuses, the American Community Survey (ACS), and geography. Additionally, the brief categorizes counties based on three types of rurality and highlights the availability of ACS estimates.

Census 2010: The Urban and Rural Classifications
U.S. Census Bureau
In Census 2010, the Census Bureau classifies as "urban" all territory, population and housing units located within an urbanized area (UA) or an urban cluster (UC). These are must have a core (one or more contiguous census block groups or BGs) with a total land area less than two square miles and a population density of 1,000 persons per square mile and surrounding census blocks that have an overall density of at least 500 people per square mile. The Census Bureau's classification of "rural" consists of all territory, population, and housing units located outside of UAs and UCs.

Also See:


Pennsylvania Association for Rural and Small Schools


Penn State’s Center on Rural Education and Communities announce the 2023


Building Community through Rural Education Award


Pennsylvania’s rural schools are characterized by their closeness to community.  People involved in rural education understand all too well that a strong relationship between rural communities and their schools is vital to ensuring both school effectiveness and community vitality.  Schools, as key institutions in rural areas, have crucially important roles to play – not only in providing first rate education, but also in strengthening the social bonds that hold rural communities together and helping to make them viable, healthy and vibrant places to live.  These roles have grown only more critical at a time when many rural schools and communities together face a series of challenges including changing labor markets, tightening school budgets and rural out-migration. 


Because of this, the Center on Rural Education and Communities (CREC) based within the Pennsylvania State University’s College of Education, and the Pennsylvania Association for Rural and Small Schools (PARSS) announce the 2023 annual Building Community through Rural Education Award. CREC and PARSS will select one award-winner and two honorable mentions, recognizing rural schools or districts that have distinguished themselves through innovative practices that contribute to the educational experiences for the students they serve, while reaching out to the broader community in which they are located. Note that qualifying schools or districts must be PARRS members to qualify


This recognition will be presented jointly by CREC and PARSS at the PARSS Annual Meeting in April in State College, Pennsylvania.  The recipient school or district will receive a plaque and will be the subject of a PARSS and PSU press release.  In addition, the district will be featured on the websites of both CREC and PARSS to highlight the innovative, community-building practices of Pennsylvania’s rural schools. 


The winning entrant will receive a $500 award and an engraved plaque, and the two honorable mention finalists will each receive $250 plus an engraved plaque recognizing their work.  Each of the schools recognized by the award will be asked to make a BRIEF presentation to the PARSS membership at the Annual Meeting on April 28th , 2023.


Full application materials can be accessed here.