The SAU Station is housed, as its name suggests, at Southern Arkansas University, which was founded in 1909 as the Third District Agricultural School to educate farming youths in the ways of modern agriculture (Willis 2009). It was created to serve rural America and, in many ways, continue to do so. Yet, how rural is the area today? How rural is the region that the SAU station serves? A lot has changed in the century since SAU was founded, so we might ask “is the region still rural?” The answers to these questions are a nice intersection of our concerns for public outreach and the instruction station staff provides at SAU in computerized mapping and data analysis.
We are working within our designated territory, which includes eleven counties (Calhoun, Columbia, Hempstead, Howard, Lafayette, Little River, Miller, Nevada, Ouachita, Sevier, and Union). These total 7,348 square miles. So, how much of this is urban? The U.S. Census Bureau has some established definitions for what counts as urban and what can be considered rural. Briefly, “urban areas” are those with a population of more than 50,000 people, and “urban clusters” have between 2,500 and 50,000 people. Everyplace else is rural. Within our territory lies a portion of one urban area (Texarkana) and the entirety of eight urban clusters (Ashdown, Camden, De Queen, El Dorado, Hope, Magnolia, Nashville, and Prescott). Together, these areas cover 75 square miles (provided we count only that portion of Texarkana that lies in Arkansas).
So, that means that the station territory’s land mass is 75 square miles of urban or urban cluster area out of a total of 7,348 square miles total. With some rounding, this means that our coverage is only 1% urban, and about 99% rural land.
Of course, this is a tabulation of land and not people, which makes things different. Still, if we count heads, the urban population of the region is 98,206 of a total of 231,995. This means we are about 42% urban, which is well below the state average of 58% (University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture 2017). We are more urban than Arkansas in general, and much more rural than America as a whole (which was 19.3% rural in 2010).
University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture (2017). Rural Profile of Arkansas 2017. University of Arkansas System, Little Rock.
Willis, James F. (2009). Southern Arkansas University: The Mulerider School’s Centennial History, 1909-2009. Xlibris, Bloomington, IN.