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Rural Students Outperform Peers in Cities, Towns, But Fewer Enroll in College

Rural students outscored on average their classmates in cities and towns but fell short of those who live in suburban areas, according to a new federal report.

That's one of the findings in the "Condition of Education," which devotes one of four chapters to rural education. The rural section is updated annually and includes demographic, enrollment, and achievement data compared to students nationally and in more populated areas. The report was published last week and summarizes the 2010-11 school year.

The National Center for Education Statistics, which produced the document, places schools into four major categories: city, suburban, town, and rural. Each of those has three subcategories, and rural areas are subdivided into their proximity to an urbanized area, specifically fringe, distant, or remote.

The report found rural students had a better graduation rate (80 percent) than students in cities (68 percent) and towns (79 percent), but they fell short of suburban students' 81 percent graduation rate. Those figures are from 2008-09, the most recent year available. Those figures are interesting when compared with rural students college enrollment rates, who lag the national average (31.3 percent compared to 41.7 percent).

The following are some other highlights from the report:


  • Rural students had better test scores than students in cities and towns, but not as good as those in suburban areas. Nationally, 32 percent of 4th graders scored at or above "proficient" in reading on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress; 35 percent of rural 4th graders scored at that same level, compared to 26 percent in cities, 29 percent in towns and 37 percent in suburbs. The same pattern held true for 8th graders.

  • More than half (57 percent) of all school districts were in rural areas, but fewer students were enrolled in rural public schools compared to suburbs and cities. Twelve million, or 24 percent, of students were in rural schools, compared to 34 percent in suburban areas and 29 percent in cities.

  • Rural schools enroll a higher percentage of white students (71 percent) than the national average (52 percent) and a lower percentage of black students (10 percent) compared to the national average (16 percent).

  • A smaller percentage of rural students live in poverty (19 percent) than those in cities or towns (25 and 21 percent, respectively).

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