Rural Students Gain but Lag in College Attendance

A new article in the American Journal of Education examines the disparities.


Elin Johnson for Indide Higher Ed



Students in rural areas have lower average rates of college enrollment and degree completion compared to nonrural students, according to findings in a new study by researchers at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

The findings, published in the American Journal of Education, show that while the divide has narrowed since the 1990s and 2000s, it remains significant.

The researchers examined how disparities changed from the 1990s to the 2000s and also how predictors of enrollment and completion for the two demographics, rural and nonrural, changed over the same period of time.

High school graduation rates from 1992 and 2004 were compared. More graduates have gone on to pursue college degrees in the 2000s.

In 1991, 45 percent of high school graduates across the country went on to pursue two- or four-year degrees, compared to 48 percent in 2000. Between academic years 2002-03 and 2012-13, there was an overall increase in students obtaining postsecondary credentials, which corresponds to the increase in the number of high school graduates going to college.

Research showed that students in rural areas did not follow these trends, and that the number of rural students going to and completing college has not increased by the same amount as their nonrural counterparts. As it stands, more than 18 percent of high school students looking at colleges are from rural areas.

In the study the researchers noted that there are different opportunities when it comes to rural and nonrural students’ college trajectories, such as rural students having stronger connections to their home communities.

The research also pointed out that in the late ’90s to early 2000s rural areas were facing complicated and contradictory economic and demographic factors, such as the recession. Researchers said that not all rural youth have leaving for college on their minds or in their plans, and that rural job markets have shifted over time to become more service-oriented.

On the other hand, growth in rural areas has meant that more jobs in those areas require bachelor’s degrees, requiring rural students to go to college.

The researchers advocated for further investigation into the subject, especially on the college-going behaviors of rural students.

The University of Massachusetts researchers who conducted and compiled the study are Ryan Wells, Catherine Manly, Suzan Kommers and Ezekiel Kimball.


Elin Johnson

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