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Study: Rural Pa. Students Trump City Peers in College Enrollment

Students who graduate from rural Pennsylvania high schools have higher college enrollment and persistence rates than students in city schools, although they still lag behind their town and suburban peers, according to a recently released study.

The Regional Educational Laboratory Program at the federal Institute of Education Sciences examined the average rates of college enrollment and persistence for rural and non-rural students during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years for "College Enrollment and Persistence in Rural Pennsylvania Schools." The report found that most high school graduates, regardless of location, matriculated at public four-year or in-state colleges. During the 2010-11 school year, about 59 percent of rural students enrolled in college, compared to 55 percent of their peers from city high schools, and 70 percent of their peers at suburban high schools. About 80 percent of rural students continued on to their second year of college compared to only 63 percent of city students, nearly 80 percent of suburban students, and about 78 percent of students from towns.

The study also found caveats in these rates depending on the type of rural school. Students who attended "fringe" rural schools, or schools that are in a rural area close to an urban area, were more likely to enroll in college and persist than their peers in distant or remote rural schools. Low-poverty rural schools were also more likely to have higher college enrollment and persistence rates than high-poverty rural schools.

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Other research has found that nationwide, although students from rural schools outperform peers on national standardized exams, they have lower college enrollment and completion rates than their non-rural peers. One study found that rural students who do attend college are less likely to attend a private or four-year- college than their non-rural peers.

The Pennsylvania study suggested that college enrollment and completion may differ between rural and non-rural schools because "students in non-rural schools have more access than their counterparts in non-rural schools to community social resources." The study also noted that some research has found that certain aspects of high school, such as student-teacher ratios and a "sense of school valuing and belonging" can influence college aspirations among rural students. 

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