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Higher Ed. Officials Encourage Action to Improve Rural Students' Enrollment Rates

Two West Virginia higher education officials say more needs to be done to increase the percentage of rural residents who have college degrees.

Sarah Beasley, who is the director of statewide academic initiatives at the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, and Neal Holly, a research and policy analyst for the commission, wrote a commentary piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education on the issue.

This is a problem on which we've repeatedly reported. Beasley and Holly cited statistics that show only 17 percent of rural adults 25 or older have a college degree, which is about half the percentage of urban adults. About 31 percent of 18- to-24-year-olds in rural areas were enrolled in higher education in 2009, compared with about 46 percent in urban areas and 42 percent in suburban areas.

"Despite all this, rural areas and the rural perspective are frequently left out of national higher education conversations," they wrote. "That must change. Given the role large national and regional foundations play in setting the higher education agenda, we hope that they will reserve a 'rural seat' at the table and that all educational policymakers will seek rural input."

They made a number of suggestions to increase rural students' academic success and college completion rates. Those included:

  • expanding research to give rural students a better primary and secondary education and encourage them to go to college;

  • put more rural education experts in leadership positions in national groups and government agencies with education oversight; and,

  • create a national support network for postsecondary institutions, with membership based on the percentage of rural students an institution serves.

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