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Study: Rural Indiana Students More Likely to 'Undermatch' in College Enrollment

Students who graduate from rural Indiana high schools are more likely to attend a two-year or nonselective school than their nonrural peers, and are more likely to enroll in a college that is "undermatched" with their presumed eligibility level, according to a new report.

The Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest at American Institutes for Research, in partnership with REL Midwest's Rural Research Alliance, examined trends among Indiana's 2010 high school graduates for "College enrollment patterns for rural Indiana high school graduates." In 2010, about 32 percent of Indiana's high school graduates were rural students. Statewide, about 27 percent of students attend rural schools.

Researchers found that, unlike the national trend, rural students in Indiana are just as likely as their nonrural peers to enroll in higher education. Similar to the national trend, however, rural students are more likely to attend a two-year college than their nonrural peers.

"Rural students come from environments with specific pres­sures (such as community and school influences, availability of social resources and social capital), familial factors (such as income level, parental educational expectations, paren­tal education levels, family structure), responsibilities (such as helping the family earn an income, employment in agricultural or industrial positions), and incentives (such as local well paying job opportunities not requiring a four-year degree) that could influence them to make college choices that differ from those of their nonrural counterparts," wrote the report authors.

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In Indiana, although graduates from rural and nonrural high schools were found to have similar academic preparation in high school, as evidenced by participation in college-level Advanced Placement exams and standardized test scores, rural students were less likely to attend a college that matched their presumed eligibility based on grade point average and test scores. About 28 percent of rural graduates enrolled in a college that was less selective than they were qualified for, compared to about 24 percent of nonrural students.

"The greater likelihood of undermatching among rural graduates may be explained partly by the informationavailable to them and by the culture of their high schools," wrote the authors of the report. More selective colleges may focus on recruiting in urban and suburban areas, the authors continued, and rural students may be "unaware of the opportunities their aca­demic qualifications may afford them."

To mitigate this, authors of the report suggested providing more information to students who are eligible for selective colleges. They also called for more research to better understand which academic programs are attractive to rural graduates.

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