Transition to College Can be Challenging for Rural Students

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The faces of rural education in America are changing, but the challenges these students encounter in earning a college degree have not.

Universities have been slow to recognize these issues, but programs for supporting rural students are starting to crop up across the country.

“We never really came to terms with the fact that they needed extra support,” Naomi Norman, associate vice president for instruction at the University of Georgia, told NPR.

Though rural students graduate from high school at higher rates than urban students and at about the same levels as suburban students, only 59 percent go straight to college. And even if they enroll, they are more likely to drop out than their suburban and urban counterparts.

This is partially due to challenges like the stereotypes rural students face from their peers and even their professors.

“They expect a yee-haw,” Cameron Russell, a University of Michigan student from rural Louisiana, told NPR. “They expect me to be some extreme bigot.”

Not wanting to live up to these stereotypes makes asking for help seem impossible.

“I’m still intimidated by professors. Going to office hours is terrifying,” Kendra Beaudoin, a University of Michigan sophomore, said. “There were definitely moments when I was like, ‘I’m only going here to fill a diversity quota and I don’t really belong here and everybody else is so much smarter than me.’ ”

In some cases, just the sheer size of the school can be an obstacle.

Alexandra Rammacher finished high school with a graduating class of 180 in rural Michigan. When she landed at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, she was stunned by the 46,000-person campus.

“Every day you would see a face you had never seen before — many faces you had never seen before,” she told NPR. “I was used to seeing a group of people I already knew. It was just a huge there-are-people-in-the-world revelation.”

See the full NPR piece for more on these challenges, check out NACAC research on the factors that constrain and promote college access and enrollment for rural students, and read an  article from The Journal of College Admission on supporting rural students.

Admission professionals committed to the admission, matriculation, and success of rural and small town students are invited to join NACAC’s Rural and Small Town SIG.

Ashley Dobson is NACAC’s communications manager for content and social media. You can reach her at adobson@nacacnet.org.

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