The Long Road to College from Rural America
Youth who grow up in a rural community face unique challenges as they think about and head toward college. Rural communities have far more adults with high school diplomas and a few years of community college than adults who have completed 4-year degrees or graduate degrees. The 2000 Census reported that 19.5 % of rural adults hold a bachelor's degree or higher as compared to 28.8 % of adults in urban areas. In our rapidly changing economy, a college education is increasingly important to economic security. Fortunately, recent studies have shown that rural youth of today are aspiring to postsecondary education including 4-year degrees, meaning many will be first generation college students. While a fair amount of attention has been paid to minority first generation college students, and a small number of researchers are examining the experiences of first generation white students, little attention is being paid to the unique group of rural first generation students who are currently entering our community colleges and universities.
The Rural Pathway to Higher Education is Unique
- College often means a large campus with thousands of students and a new sense of anonymity.
- Colleges are often located closer to urban areas and in places with dramatically different lifestyles.
- Moving quite far from home can be difficult for rural youth who feel obligated to help their family or contribute to farm work.
- Rural youth are also moving to a place where fewer strangers can be trusted. Parents worry whether their kids will be careful with their wallets and laptops, will learn where it is and is not safe at night, and will find good friends.
- Once at college, rural youth meet and share classes with students who grew up in the suburbs and cities.
- Finding common ground can be hard. Stereotypes of rural people as "bumpkins," "hillbillies," or "cowboys" may present themselves, forcing these youth to either hide their roots or prove themselves in and out of the classroom.
- Rural youth generally have less access to advanced coursework, especially calculus and advanced placement classes, leaving them with more college classes to take in order to complete their degrees.
The Special Case of Community College