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Poverty Helps Explain Why Rural Students Don't Finish College

Rural students have more access to community social resources that should help them earn college degrees, but they trail their nonrural peers in doing so, largely because of poverty.

Those are the key findings in "Rural-Nonrural Disparities in Postsecondary Educational Attainment Revisited," an updated study published in the June issue of the American Educational Research Journal. The authors are: Soo-yong Byun, Judith L. Meece, and Matthew J. Irvin, all of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A subscription is needed to view the full article.

The study's authors measured community social resources by looking at how often parents talked with the parents of their children's friends, how well parents knew their children's friends, and how often students participated in religious services.

They used data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study that in 1988 surveyed 25 8th-graders in 1,000 randomly selected middle schools. Those children were tracked through high school graduation and eight years after that.

They looked at whether family background, community social resources, or academic preparation could explain the rural lag in post-secondary attainment.

Rural students' parents were less likely to have bachelor's degrees and less likely to expect their children to finish college compared with urban and suburban students. Rural students also were more likely to have lower high school test scores and less likely to have taken rigorous courses, which were indicators of academic preparation.

But rural students had more community social resources, with their parents being more likely to communicate with and know the parents of their child's friends. Rural students also more frequently participated in religious services.

The study found part of the difference in rural students' college enrollment and completion shortcomings could be attributed to their low socioeconomic backgrounds.

The study's authors suggested future research could look at other factors to better understand the disparities between rural and nonrural college degree attainment.

They also acknowledged the increasing rate of rural high school students graduating from college, and they suggested analyzing a more recent group of high school students for trends.

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