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Course Access May Make It Harder for Rural Schools to Send Kids to College

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By Guest Blogger Sarah D. Sparks

Rural schools may face a heavier lift to get students from high school to college, according to an ongoing study by University of Virginia researchers Edward Holler and Ted Price.

More than 47 percent of Virginia high school graduates in 2014 went on to four-year colleges, according to data from the state's education department. But the college-going rate varied widely between schools that graduated 350 or more students at a time and ones that graduated 150 students or fewer:

A representative sample of 90 small schools outside of metropolitan areas had on average a matriculation rate that was 15 percentage points lower than the state average, Holler and Price found. College-going rates ranged from 16 percent to 40 percent, and Holler noted that those rural college-going rates are lower than they were 20 years ago.

By contrast, a random sample of 10 large schools sent 24 percent to 63 percent of their graduating seniors to four-year colleges.

The researchers also found smaller schools provided on average fewer than five Advanced Placement or other honors courses to students, compared to more than 13 courses available on average in larger schools. While online AP courses were available in all of the small schools studied, the researchers found these were only available as independent coursework in several schools. 

The results are preliminary, but Virginia's college-going gap raises important questions of how to tailor college and career pathways for students beyond the urban core.

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