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Family Characteristics Matter More than Location to Dropout Rates

Family and peer characteristics are far more important than geographic location when looking at why students drop out of high school, according to new research.

The study, "Rural and Urban High School Dropout Rates: Are They Different?," compared dropout rates for rural and urban communities, and how various factors affected those. They found the differences between those areas' dropout rates is small and closing.

The study began by explaining that their method of data analysis previously was used in research that gave national estimates of high school dropout rates, but it didn't distinguish between rural and urban areas.

Overall, this study found the factors affecting whether students drop out have less to do with location and more to do with family-level characteristics, such as gender, family assets, the presence of biological parents, and maternal attributes. Those family characteristics affect rural and urban dropouts in similar ways.

"Thus, the important policy concerns do not reside in urban and rural differences but in parental issues," they wrote. "Our results show that the impact of a two-parent home (particularly biological parents) is significant."

The biggest exception in the similarities between rural vs. urban dropouts were that rural black and Hispanic males had a greater chance of graduating. Still, the study noted there are few of those students.

The study's authors contend "much of the confusion regarding rural-urban graduation gaps comes from considerations regarding how 'graduates' are defined." They mentioned research that found urban graduation rates at 60.9 percent and rural ones at 74 percent, and they said part of that gap could attributed to how states calculate their high school graduation rates.

The study was authored by Jeffrey L. Jordan and Genti Kostandini of the University of Georgia-Griffin and Elton Mykerezi of the University of Minnesota, and it was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Research in Rural Education.

They suggested looking further in the future at how family characteristics affect high school completion, specifically the effect of two biological parents versus the other family arrangements. They also suggested looking at the effectiveness of dropout prevention policies that factor in high penalties imposed by different familial arrangements, poverty, race, and peer surroundings.

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