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NOT QUITE COLLEGE BOUND: Oregon’s Rural Students Lag Behind Nonrural Peers in College Attendance

Students who attend rural high schools in Oregon are less likely to enroll in postsecondary education than students who attend the state’s urban and suburban high schools, according to a study conducted by the Regional Educational Laboratory Northwest (REL) for the Institute of Education Sciences. Furthermore, when rural students do enroll in college, they are less likely than nonrural students to make it to their second year, according to the study, Comparing Postsecondary Enrollment and Persistence Among Rural and Nonrural Students in Oregon.

Of Oregon’s 200 school districts, 158 qualify as “rural districts,” according to the REL report. These districts educate nearly 180,000 pre-K–12 public school students, approximately one-third of the state’s total public school population. In 2009, the Oregon State Senate required the Oregon State Board of Education and the Oregon State Board of Higher Education jointly to explore ways to increase postsecondary enrollment and persistence among rural students.

But the REL study finds that Oregon’s rural students still lag behind their urban and suburban peers. Researchers examined data from students who attended ninth grade at an Oregon public high school in 2005, 2006, or 2007 and who graduated or left school between 2005 and 2012.

As shown in the report below, 55 percent of rural students enrolled in postsecondary education after high school, compared to 63 percent of nonrural students. Rural students had lower rates of enrollment than nonrural students across all high school academic achievement levels and across all racial categories, except for Hispanic students. Results from the study show that rural Hispanic students were slightly more likely than their urban and suburban peers to enroll in postsecondary education.

Oregon_REL

Although rural students had lower college enrollment rates overall, their likelihood of enrolling in postsecondary education immediately—meaning during the first term after leaving high school—compared favorably to that of nonrural students with similar characteristics. There was one exception: rural African American students were less likely than their suburban and urban counterparts to enroll in postsecondary education immediately after high school.

Overall, though, students who did not enroll immediately in postsecondary education still accounted for the largest share of rural students. Only 34 percent of rural students enrolled in postsecondary education during the first term after high school, while 21 percent delayed enrollment, and 45 percent did not enroll at all. Among nonrural students, though, 42 percent enrolled in postsecondary education immediately after high school, while 21 percent delayed enrollment, and 37 percent did not enroll at all.

Rural students who enrolled in postsecondary education also had lower persistence rates than nonrural students, regardless of whether they delayed college enrollment or enrolled immediately, according to the REL study. Among rural students, 78 percent made it to their second year of college, compared to 83 percent of nonrural students. Rural students had lower persistence rates across all high school academic achievement levels and in all college categories: two-year, four-year, private, public, in-state, and out-of-state institutions. Additionally, access to financial aid did not influence college persistence among rural students. Both rural and nonrural students who received financial aid were equally likely to continue to their second year of college.

“Previous research has shown that rural students … may experience different barriers to accessing postsecondary education, such as fewer advanced course offerings, a shortage of highly qualified teachers, and more financial constraints at the high school level,” the report states. “Given the national emphasis on improving access to and enrollment in college for all students, highlighting differences between nonrural and rural students is particularly important to ensure education policies are serving rural communities and promoting rural educational attainment as well as attainment in urban and suburban locations.”

Comparing Postsecondary Enrollment and Persistence Among Rural and Nonrural Students in Oregon is available at http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/edlabs/regions/northwest/pdf/REL_2015076.pdf.

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