College isn’t likely to be in the cards for students from poor, rural communities. Furthermore, for rural kids who go to college, they are the least likely to persist, in comparison to their peers from more affluent and/or urban areas.

In a new report, the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) slices the college-going and college-persistence rates of high school graduates (class of 2010) by the geography, income, and racial composition of their alma mater.[1] Based on these characteristics, NSC generated 6 categories of students: low income, high minority, urban; low income, low minority, urban; low income, rural; higher income, high minority urban; higher income, low minority urban; higher income, rural.  

Students from poor, rural schools have the lowest college-going and persistence rates among these 6 categories of students. Here are the alarming statistics:

  • College Going Rate: Just 50 percent of students from poor, rural schools enrolled in any type of college (2- or 4-year) immediately after high school. Their college-going rate is slightly lower than even that of graduates from poor, high-minority urban schools (53 percent).
  • 4-Year College Going Rate: Just 28 percent of them enrolled in a 4-year college immediately after high school. Their 4-year college going rate is again a slightly lower rate than for graduates of poor, high-minority urban schools (30 percent).
  • 1-Year College Persistence Rate: 79 percent of college-enrolled students from poor, rural high schools persisted into a second year of college. The 1-year college persistence rate for students from poor, rural schools is nearly the same as students from poor, high-minority urban schools (80 percent).

As corollaries to these gloomy college-going and college-persistence rates, in Ohio at least, rural students have lower ACT and Advanced Placement (AP) exam participation rates. Among the Buckeye State’s rural schools, ACT participation rates trailed the non-rural school average by 7 points (59 to 66 percent) in 2010-11. Meanwhile, for the same school year, 149 out of 231 rural school districts reported that less than 10 of students had taken an AP exam.

Educational policy has focused considerable attention on improving educational outcomes of poor, minority students who come from urban areas. Nevertheless, as the NSC data tell us, developing “college-ready” students from impoverished rural communities is a challenge just the same as helping inner-city kids go to college and succeed once there.

What can be done to help poor, rural kids in Ohio become prepared and ready to succeed in college? Perhaps, a first step forward would be for rural communities and their legislators to fully embrace the higher, more rigorous—and “college-ready”—Common Core learning standards.

[1] NSC collects enrollment data on 95 percent of America’s college (2- and 4-year colleges, public and private) students.


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