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.

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:


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

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.


Kathryn Brasier
Professor of Rural Sociology
Penn State University

Soo-yong Byun
Associate 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
Assistant Professor of Education
Penn State University

Tim Kelsey
Professor of Agricultural Economics
Penn State University

Kimberly Powell
Professor of Education & Art Education
Penn State University

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

Graduate Student Associates

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

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

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

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
Higher Education Data Analyst, Schreyer Honors College
Penn State University

Maryann Stark

Daniella Hall Sutherland 
Assistant Professor
Clemson University