Rural Students Lag Urban Peers on College Enrollment, Persistence

By Diette Courrégé Casey — October 15, 2013 2 min read
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Poverty appears to have a stronger effect on students’ college enrollment than geographic location, but rural students still trail their urban peers on postsecondary enrollment and persistence, according to a new study by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

The fall 2012 college enrollment rate for higher-income rural schools was 65 percent, which was lower than the best rate of 70 percent among similar-income urban schools where less than 40 percent of their students were minorities, according to the report. The study didn’t disaggregate rural school figures by race, although it did for urban schools.

Low-income rural schools had the worst college-enrollment rate at 50 percent, compared to 55 percent for similar-income urban schools with few minority students.

Rural college-enrollment rates are an often-reported problem, one that periodically yields recommendations from the field on ways this issue could be addressed. Only 17 percent of rural adults 25 or older have a college degree, which is about half the percentage of urban adults. About 31 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds in rural areas were enrolled in higher education in 2009, compared with about 46 percent in urban areas and 42 percent in suburban areas.

“The High School Benchmarks Report: National College Progression Rates” report released today shows college-enrollment rates dropped significantly when looking solely at four-year colleges and universities. Low-income rural schools again had the lowest rate at 28 percent, while the rate was 44 percent at higher-income rural schools.

The study pointed out that many students don’t go to college the fall immediately after high school, but students do enroll sometime during that first year. Eighty-three percent of students from low-income rural high schools who enrolled later in that first year did so in two-year institutions, compared to students of other groups that had two-thirds to three-quarters of their additional enrollment in two-year institutions.

The study also looked at persistence rates, which are the percentage of students who continue from the first to second year of college. Generally, students from higher-income high schools had better persistence rates than those from lower-income schools, and those rates were better for students who chose private colleges than public institutions. Lower-income rural students again had the worst college-persistence rate at 79 percent, while higher-income rural students’ rate was seven percentage points better.

For a full overview of the study and its major findings, read Sarah Sparks’ post on the Inside School Research blog. The College Bound blog, written by Caralee Adams, should have more analysis and reaction on the study later today.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.