Study: Some US Colleges Fail to Reach Rural Students

20 April, 2019

With more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the Unites States, it may seem like students have plenty of access to higher education.

But that is not always the case for students from places like central Colorado or western Texas, for example. For high school students in rural areas, even going on a college visit may be difficult.

That is part of why most colleges and universities employ officials known as recruiters. These people travel around the country to meet with students and bring them important information related to higher education.

College recruiters may visit individual high schools or plan larger events where students from a wider area can speak with them. Many even travel to high schools outside the United States to attract international students.

Recruiters help colleges and universities better identify the kinds of students they are looking to admit and stay in contact with them, says Ozan Jaquette. He is an assistant professors of education at the University of California - Los Angeles (UCLA).

Jaquette says recruiting also usually means more students will apply to the school. And, students who meet with a recruiter may be more likely to choose to go to that school if they are admitted.

"This is a way of developing ... a stronger bond with ... students so they feel a sense of warmth about that university, because, ‘Hey, this person from this university came and wanted speak to me,' he told VOA. "And it's also kind of a means of a higher touch sales pitch."

This deeper connection means a lot to underrepresented groups, like students who would be the first from their family to attend college. There are many possible first-generation college students in rural areas, Jaquette notes. He says those students are more likely to be unsure of whether they would fit in at a university.

Yet, Jaquette and other researchers recently published a study suggesting that college recruiters are not actually visiting many rural communities. In fact, the study suggests few recruiters are meeting with students who may need their help the most.

The researchers announced their findings through an opinion piece in the New York Times newspaper earlier this month.

In this December 11, 2017 photo, Kimberly Taylor, one of three high school students remaining at the Rochester School, stands in an empty science classroom at the school in Rochester, Vermont.
In this December 11, 2017 photo, Kimberly Taylor, one of three high school students remaining at the Rochester School, stands in an empty science classroom at the school in Rochester, Vermont.

They looked at the recruiting efforts of about 150 U.S. colleges and universities in 2017.

They found that recruiters at private colleges made about half their visits to high schools in areas where households make more than $100,000 a year, on average. Only about one-third of American households make that much money. Also, private college recruiters mostly visited private high schools, which most often serve students from wealthy families.

The researchers also took a close look at 15 public colleges and universities. They found that at 12 of those schools, recruiters made more visits outside of the college's home state than within it. And, most of those out-of-state trips were to wealthy, majority-white, suburban high schools – schools just outside of cities.

Jaquette says such recruiting plans work against the main purpose of public higher education -- which is to serve all kinds of students in a school's home state first.

Some school officials have argued that it can be especially costly to visit rural schools, where recruiters may only speak with a few students.

Also, states have greatly reduced their financial support for public higher education over the last 20 years. This means the schools depend more on tuition payments from students to cover operating costs. Out-of-state tuition costs are much higher than in-state fees. And wealthy out-of-state students require less financial assistance from the schools.

So, out-of-state and international students have become much more attractive to recruiters.

Faye Huie says this has an effect on rural communities; it may limit rural students' abilities to succeed after high school. Huie is a researcher at the National Student Clearinghouse, an organization that supports American higher education.

Huie helps produce a yearly report that gathers data on American high school students. Her group's 2018 report showed that students from both rural and urban high schools were 4 percent less likely to go to college right after graduating than students from suburban schools.

Jamie Anthony is an admissions official at Carleton College. The school is in a small town about one hour outside the "Twin Cities" of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. Anthony says the school has actively taken steps to build relationships with rural high schools in the area.

"A lot of times it comes down to access to information, she said. "And because there's not many given students at a given school there's not a lot of different examples of what the path after high school can look like."

In 2012, Carleton established the Herb and Barbara Fritch Scholarship, which aims to offer financial support to middle-class students from rural areas and smaller cities. The year before the scholarship was launched, about 8 percent of Carleton's students came from rural areas. Now, it is closer to 12 percent.

Carleton is not the only school to make such efforts. The University of Chicago recently launched a summer program designed for rural students.

UCLA's Ozan Jaquette says more schools should be doing the same. He noted that military and for-profit college recruiters seem to have no problem reaching rural high school students.

I'm Pete Musto.
And I'm Dorothy Gundy.

Pete Musto reported this story for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor. We want to hear from you. How easy is it for people in rural areas in your country to enter higher education? Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

accessn. a way of being able to use or get something

attractv. to cause someone to like or be interested in something

applyv. to ask formally for something, such as a job, admission to a school, or a loan, usually in writing

sales pitchn. a speech that you give in order to persuade someone to buy something

suburbanadj. living in or relating to a town or other area where people live in houses near a larger city

tuitionn. money that is paid to a school for the right to study there

urbanadj. of or relating to cities and the people who live in them

graduatingv. earning a degree or diploma from a school, college, or university

scholarshipn. an amount of money that is given by a school or an organization to a student to help pay for the student's education