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Rural-nonrural disparities in postsecondary educational attainment revisited

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U.S. inner-city schools often receive the lion’s share of attention from education reformers and charter school founders, but rural schools educate up to a third of America’s public school students and face challenges just as daunting as their urban counterparts.

A 2012 study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill investigated factors that could influence the differences in college enrollment and degree attainment for rural and nonrural youths. Published in the American Educational Research Journal, “Rural-Nonrural Disparities in Postsecondary Educational Attainment Revisited” examined data on approximately 9,000 students from the National Educational Longitudinal Study (NELS). The study used NELS definitions of rural, suburban and urban pupils, with “nonrural” referring to both urban and suburban students.

Study findings include:

  • Rural youth tend to suffer from higher rates of poverty and have less access to college prep classes and educational counseling resources than their urban counterparts. Their parents tend to be less educated and less likely to encourage their children to attend college.
  • Urban students are more than twice as likely to earn a B.A. than their rural counterparts, and suburban students more than 50% as likely.
  • “Family income was found to predict college enrollment only for urban students. By contrast, family structure predicted college enrollment only for rural students, whereas the number of siblings predicted only for suburban students. In addition, student church attendance was significantly related to college enrollment only for rural students.”
  • Parental involvement and expectations differed between rural and nonrural students, with rural parents earning fewer bachelor’s degrees and holding “lower levels of educational expectations for, and involvement in, their children’s education” than their nonurban counterparts. The authors noted that this puts rural students at a disadvantage, as parental involvement and expectations are “positive predictors” of college enrollment and degree completion.
  • Rural students typically benefited from more social resources, including parents who communicate with church members and students’ friends and parents. These resources produced a “small but significant increase in the likelihood of college degree attainment” for rural students.

Rural students’ lower rates of college enrollment and degree completion were “largely because of their lower socioeconomic background,” the researchers conclude. Community resources thus play a particularly important role in helping rural students, who typically experience economic hardship and social isolation to enter and complete college.

Tags: youth, municipal, higher education, parenting, rural

    Writer: | Last updated: August 9, 2012

    Citation: Byun, Soo-yong; Meece, Judith L.; Irvin, Matthew J. “Rural-Nonrural Disparities in Postsecondary Educational Attainment Revisited,” American Educational Research Journal, June 2012, Vol. 49, No. 3, 412-437. doi: 10.3102/0002831211416344.

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    Read the study-related Education Week article titled "Poverty Helps Explain Why Rural Students Don't Finish College."

    1. What key insights from the news article and the study in this lesson should reporters be aware of as they cover issues relating to rural students and rates of college attendance?

    Study analysis

    Read the full study titled “Rural-Nonrural Disparities in Postsecondary Educational Attainment Revisited.”

    1. What are the study's key technical term(s)? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
    2. Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
    3. What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
    4. Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
    5. How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.

    Newswriting and digital reporting assignments

    1. Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
    2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
    3. Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
    4. Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
    5. Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
    6. Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.

    Class discussion questions

    1. What is the study’s most important finding?
    2. Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
    3. What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
    4. How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
    5. How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
    6. What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?