Rural Students Underrepresented in Higher Education

According to recent research from the United States Department of Agriculture and National Student Clearinghouse, students in rural areas are less likely than their urban peers to attend higher education institutions—despite testing higher and graduating from high school at higher rates.

High school Graduation Rates:

  1. Suburban/Town students: 79%
  2. Urban Students 69%
  3. Rural Students 80%

College enrollment rates directly out of high school:

  1. Suburban students: 67%
  2. Urban students: 62%
  3. Rural Students: 59 %

One reason is that historically, a college degree has not always been necessary in rural areas. Students out of high school could once find high paying unskilled work on farms and at factories with blue collar jobs. With the increase in automation and the growth of job outsourcing overseas, rural Americans have seen their job prospects drop considerably. Rural regions also tend to see less value in higher education. Pew Research found that fewer people in the rural community are convinced that enrolling in college is worth it with 71% of rural white men believing that college plays an essential role in providing necessary skills, while 82% and 84% of urban and suburban white men believe it does.

Other factors in lower rural college enrollment rates:

  1. Higher rates of drug and mental health problems
  2. Higher rates of poverty—household incomes are 20 to 25 percent below national averages.
  3. Less access to high speed internet/technology
  4. Lower rates of high school teacher recruitment and retention

Colleges have taken notice of this gap and are beginning to increase recruitment efforts in rural areas. According to a survey conducted by Inside Higher Ed and Gallup, 38% of surveyed college admissions directors plan to concentrate on recruiting rural students in the coming year. Schools are also looking to provide better access to higher education through fellowship and scholarship opportunities, with schools like Clemson and Duke University that offer scholarships aimed at students located in remote areas. States like Oklahoma and Texas are also offering new programs, such as College Forward, aimed at expanding free counseling to potential students in rural areas.

Ways Colleges are looking to help rural area students

  1. Rural-specific college application guides, including virtual advisers and online prep courses
  2. Extending class times, allowing students more time to travel the longer distances
  3. Increased internet access on remote campuses

As economies in rural areas continue to shift toward careers that require postsecondary educations, it is becoming increasingly imperative for students in those areas attain degrees. Despite previously receiving less attention from the higher education community, increased recruitment efforts and programs in said areas may improve the educational attainment and economic interests of rural communities as a whole.


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