By Jennifer Gauntt
Special to The Item
The population of rural Texas is greater than the total resident populations of roughly 24 other states, and every day these rural Texans deal with social, economic and environmental issues that are both similar to and different from their counterparts living in urban areas.
Identifying and understanding those issues are key components of the Sam Houston State University Center for Rural Studies’ first Texas Rural Survey.
The center will release the results of the survey on Feb. 13 during an event hosted by Texas Sen. Charles Schwertner in Austin, at 2 p.m. in the Capitol Senate Conference Room E1.020. State Reps. John Otto and Lois Kolkhorst, various senate and house committee chairs, representatives from the Texas Department of Agriculture, SHSU President Dana Gibson, Texas State University System Chancellor Brian McCall and SHSU Provost Jaimie Hebert are also expected to be in attendance.
The inaugural Texas Rural Survey was administered to 4,111 households in 22 rural communities across the state. Respondents were asked to answer questions about a variety of social and economic topics ranging from community and economic development, local services and amenities, access to medical and healthcare services to education, workforce development, agriculture and disaster preparedness.
“There are approximately 4.2 million people living in rural Texas. To really understand the attitudes and behaviors of people in rural Texas is extremely important, not only in an academic sense but in a practical sense,” said Gene Theodori, chair of Sam Houston State University’s sociology department and director of the university’s Center for Rural Studies.
“Folks living in rural Texas contribute to the economy of the state of Texas and they’re making rural Texas their home; they’re the stewards of the land in rural Texas, so we need to understand the attitudes and behaviors and concerns of the folks living there,” he said. “This is going to give us a detailed picture of what’s going on in rural Texas.”
The survey, funded by SHSU’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences and developed in coordination with the Texas Department of Agriculture, was created to provide community leaders, regional stakeholders, and state-level officials with timely and salient data on local social and economic conditions which, in turn, can be used to make informed decisions on rural programs and policies, according to Cheryl Hudec, associate director of the Center for Rural Studies.
A study of this nature has not been conducted in the state, at least recently, and agencies generally tend to rely on secondary data sets such as census data to try to understand the different areas of the state, according to the researchers.
“Those secondary data sets don’t capture the social, cultural, political and environmental issues that are occurring in those rural communities,” Theodori said. “This will allow us to compare the attitudes and behaviors of the citizens in numerous rural communities across the state.
“Of concern here is that, when you look at our state legislature, most of our representatives are from urban areas and they might not be directly familiar with many of the challenges and opportunities facing rural Texas residents, he said. “This survey will provide them with empirical data on rural Texas.”
The survey is expected to become an annual event, which will allow the team to assess change and effectiveness of implemented strategies over time. Each cycle will be informed by current and relevant rural issues identified at the local and state levels and will highlight what local residents want to see from their leaders in the future.
“The release of the results from the Texas Rural Survey will be a significant event for all participants who have a vested interest in rural Texas,” Hudec said.
An executive summary will be presented during the Feb. 13 event, at which time the entire report will be made available both at the release and online at shsu.edu/~org_crs.