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.
Like many other segments of society, small towns in the United States are changing.
Today, roughly one out of every five residents in rural America identifies as Latino. Between 2000 and 2009 alone, rural schools saw a 150 percent increase in enrollment of Latino students, according to a recent report from the Center for Public Education (CPE).
“As rural areas become increasingly diverse, it becomes more important to examine how this trend may change student needs,” according to report author Megan Lavalley, a CPE research analyst.
Nearly half of America’s school districts are located in rural areas, yet the unique needs of these students are too often overlooked in the college search and selection process.
While family income, parental educational attainment, and prior academic achievement all play a role in limiting college access, systemic constraints also come into play – resulting in lower rates of college attendance for rural students when compared to their urban and suburban peers.
One such barrier? Poverty due to the loss of economic opportunities.