New Study Shows Rural Students Take Different Path Into Postsecondary Education

College enrollment patterns differ for rural and nonrural Indiana high school graduates despite similar academic preparation

Indiana has taken multiple steps to improve the college readiness of the state’s high school students including adopting new high school graduation requirements and aligning high school standards with college and workplace expectations. However, in a state where 31 percent of high school students attend school in a rural area, a new Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest report shows that the paths students take into college can vary based on whether a student attends a rural or an urban school.

Using data primarily from Indiana’s Student Information System, REL Midwest and its College and Career Success Research Alliance examined student data on the 2010 graduating classes of all Indiana public high schools. The report, College Enrollment Patterns for Rural Indiana High School Graduates, highlights that:

  • Similar proportions of rural and nonrural high school graduates enrolled in college.
  • Rural graduates were more likely to enroll in two-year colleges and less likely to enroll in very selective colleges.
  • Rural and nonrural graduates had similar academic preparation and presumed likelihood of acceptance to colleges of varying levels of selectivity. However, rural graduates were more likely to enroll in less selective colleges than they likely could have been admitted to, based on their academic qualifications.
  • Rural graduates travelled farther distances to attend two-year and less selective four-year colleges.
  • Rural graduates were less likely to be eligible for school lunch programs than their nonrural peers. Eligibility for school lunch programs is an indicator of poverty. 

These results underscore a gap in college enrollment and completion rates for Indiana’s rural high school graduates.

These findings suggest that Indiana’s rural and nonrural high school graduates have different college choice processes that may be unrelated to poverty and socioeconomic status. Instead, the different college pathways between rural and nonrural graduates may be influenced by the culture of the student’s high school, the information available to them regarding college options, or how strongly they feel about remaining close to parents or relatives. Moving forward, members of REL Midwest’s College and Career Success Research Alliance will use these findings to make more informed decisions about how to best prepare students from all backgrounds for postsecondary education. 

View the full infographic. Authored by Regional Educational Laboratory Midwest.

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