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Study: College Visits, ACT Prep Boost College Enrollment

College campus visits and college entrance exam preparation workshops appeared to make the biggest difference in improving rural students' college enrollment rates, according to a new study.

"Increasing College-Going Rate, Parent Involvement, and Community Participation in Rural Communities," by Stephanie B. King of Mississippi State University, in Starkville, Miss., was featured in the winter issue of The Rural Educator, the official journal of the National Rural Education Association. The article is not yet available online.

The study looked at the perceptions of leaders who facilitated 11 grant projects to increase the college-going rate of high school students in rural Appalachian counties. Researchers wanted to know what they thought most affected college enrollment, parent participation, and community involvement.

This is a big issue for rural areas. Rural students lag the rest of the country in their college enrollment rates, with only 27 percent of their students going to a post-secondary institution compared with 34 percent nationally, according to 2004 data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

The grant officials were asked to answer four questions:
• What factors had the greatest impact on increasing the college-going rate at their schools?
• What activities had the least impact (i.e. what didn't work well)?
• Did parent participation in school activities improve? If so, what worked and what did not?
• What worked or did not work to get the community involved?

The study's author analyzed those answers and noted patterns in responses.

The factors listed by the greatest number of respondents as having the most impact on college enrollment were college campus visits and ACT preparation workshops.

"Our students desperately need the exposure to different college environments," one respondent said. "... Just being able to visit the other colleges around the state helped many of our students want to attend college."

The ACT preparation workshops helped ensure students had the necessary requirements to apply to college, according to the study.

Other common suggestions included financial aid workshops and training for school personnel on college enrollment.

Respondents listed a number of factors that didn't affect students' college enrollment, but there was no common theme or issue identified more than once. That's surprising, considering the documented findings elsewhere that have showed financial aid, inadequate preparation, and parental ignorance as barriers facing rural students.

Parent involvement was important to evaluate because parents play the strongest role in students' decisions about college, according to the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative. Participants suggested making sure parents were aware of events they should attend and providing food at those gatherings.

Each of the study's participants also worked with community-based groups to increase college enrollment rates. They recommended making one-on-one requests of community members and contacting a variety of people. The most successful efforts were the ones in which residents participated in school events, such as college fairs or awards banquets.

The study was limited in that it did not provide conclusive data on the change in college-going rates at the surveyed schools, and the information was self reported.

"Despite these limitations, the information provided by the project leaders may be useful in guiding others working with similar projects," according to the study.

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