Association of American Geographers
About AAG Membership Annual Meeting Projects & Programs Education Publications Calendar Of Events Jobs & Careers


About the AAG ALIGNED Toolkit Map Layers

Why map?

We have learned that when making decisions about going to college, the question of where to go is one of the most important ones that underrepresented youth carefully consider.

While the US population is becoming increasingly diverse (Frazier and Margai 2003) with predictions of over fifty percent non-white population by the year 2030 (CPE 2007), we remain a nation that is spatially segregated, at least residentially, transformed into what de Blij and Muller already a decade ago termed a “mosaic culture”  (1997:174).  Similarly, studies indicate that the nation’s public schools are changing and growing in record numbers, but that these changes vary dramatically by geographic location, with some states experiencing growth and others decline, so it is particularly important to note how K-12 enrollments of racial and ethnic minorities differ by place (Zehr 2007).  Taken together, the trends point to increasing segregation in public schools (Biggs 2007).   

Such patterns clearly impact the way colleges and universities in different parts of the country experience success or failure with diversity recruiting and retention plans of pre-college students.  A small liberal arts school in the rural Midwest has different realities to contend with concerning recruitment and retention than an urban commuter school on the east coast.   In the AAG’s survey of geography departments on diversity, chairs indicated that the greatest challenge in recruiting/ retaining minority students was their location in an overwhelmingly white rural or suburban area.  Opportunities for increasing diversity might be missed when these demographic realities are not considered in their spatial context.  The ALIGNED project places these realities at the core of our approach

About the Toolkit’s Map Layers

The pipeline principle— that is, building relationships among educational institutions serving students at different stages from grade school, middle school, secondary, community colleges, undergraduate to graduate levels—is fairly well understood as a framework for recruitment efforts in higher education. However, it is often overlooked how such pipelines are spatial in nature.  The toolkit aims to make this more apparent by presenting what are some of the most important factors that departments might consider when planning to recruit and retain different groups:

Close to home

Research confirms that most students, both minority and non-minority, attend a higher educational institution close to home (Kelley 2005, Estaville et al. 2006), but this distance-decay factor is especially true for Hispanic and non-traditional students. AAG research for graduate students also revealed that proximity is the third most important reason for department choice, only after receiving financial aid and the level of match between the graduate program and personal interests.  Pivo (2005) found that in considerations to apply for graduate studies, the greatest difference between whites and minorities is a greater sensitivity of the latter to rating their current place of residence as an important factor in their decision (64 percent respond that it is important). 
 The toolkit enables users to select from among the set of demographic groups that reflect US Census data to visualize distribution across space.  The radial buttons permit display of population aged 15-29 by county, representing the age cohort most likely to attend college.  Data is displayed by five quintile groups and percentage breakdowns are viewable by clicking the label next to each radial button.

Minority Serving Institutions

Building relationships also means that institutional relationships are important for departments to consider in their enhancing diversity plans.  The unique missions of Minority Serving Institutions present an opportunity for playing a mutually beneficial role when universities foster relationships with colleagues at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges, and Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions.  Community Colleges as well, although not formally MSIs, can often serve as important partners for broadening participation in program trajectories because many underrepresented students begin their academic careers in community colleges.
Understanding the nature of historical, demographic and spatial dynamics is important for supporting geography with HBCUs, HSIs, TCUs, and AANAPISI's.  Few HSIs (institutions with at least 25% Hispanic students) were established as such. Where the more than 200 HSIs in 14 states are today is due in part to rapid and uneven growth of Hispanics since the 1970s in particular locations. TCUs were usually established on or close to tribal lands, and cultural affinity to relationships with the land holds potential for generating even stronger interest in geography and geosciences at these institutions, as well as for building relationships to graduate education at other locations.  HBCUs remain prominent in the US South where most of the nation’s black population resided at the time they were historically established.
AAG has compiled, listed and mapped the locations of geography programs at MSIs,  which can be accessed here.
 The toolkit shows the location of all MSIs in the country when this option is selected, regardless of whether there is an existing geography department, raising awareness of the possibilities for institutional collaborations.

More than Access, also Success

Many incoming freshmen are not aware of geography as a possible major or career pathway.   For these reasons, many departments seeking to grow their programs follow a practice of engaging with General Education courses for introducing geography broadly as a career path.  Beyond the boundaries of campus, efforts for reaching out to high school students to interest them in the discipline can leverage the growth of the Advanced Placement Human Geography Exam 
 in recent years, increasing from just over three thousand test takers in 2001 to more than 61,000 test takers in 2010 (Roth 2010). Related subjects, like AP Environmental Science had 72,841 test takers in 2009.
Locating high schools where the AP Exams are offered can mean tapping into a young audience with emerging interests.  The toolkit shows where both AP Human Geography and Environmental Science exams are offered. Overlaying this data with the demographic thematic maps may point out potential places to create collaborations around geography education.  Possible activities include holding career day events and inviting high schoolers to involving nearby secondary classrooms with university service learning projects.

Beyond the Map

There are of course many possibilities which the map does not yet show. The toolkit beta continues to evolve and we welcome ideas for improvement.   There are also concepts which a map cannot adequately depict. A few are discussed here.

Nonlinear Mobility

The relationships among places can be nonlinear and not spatially contiguous. While for undergraduates, close to home is an important consideration, graduate students and faculty show greater rates and longer distances in mobility. In this sense, the toolkit’s portrayal of a department’s possible catchment area is not intended to represent all of the possibilities for engaging with underrepresented populations for broadening participation in the discipline.  Despite the map’s limitations at displaying a spatially contiguous area, we recognize the complexity of human movements using theoretical and conceptual tools like those found in migration studies (Cohen 1995; Castles & Miller 1993; Lewis 1982).  “Migration streams” are also often established at universities (AAMIGA 2006). 

A Question of Scale

We further recognize the impact of geographic scale for questions of defining diversity and identifying action options.  Not least of these include effects akin to the Modifiable Area Unit Problem, that reveals how different scales of analysis can lead to variable results (Sheppard and McMaster 2004:6). When applied to enhancing diversity, changing scales could expose new opportunities for institutional relationships that are mutually beneficial.

A Sense of Place

Finally, for many minority students, space and place relate strongly to culture, so our definition of catchment considers “place” in a similar tradition to Yi-Fu Tuan (1974), combining the uses and symbolic significance of specific locations with the sense of and identity with spatial location that comes from living in and associating with it. In applied terms, students of color from the South may experience profound cultural adaptation even in diverse settings in Northern states.   For this reason, departmental climate becomes an important consideration for both recruitment and retention.  

by Dr. Patricia Solís, AAG