The Disadvantage of Rural Students in College Enrollment and Choice

Report: “The Effects of Rurality on College Access and Choice”

Author: Andrew Koricich, assistant professor of higher education, Texas Tech University

Organizations: Texas Tech University; presented at the American Educational Research Association’s annual meeting

Summary: Students in non-metropolitan counties are less likely to go to college and, if they do, are less likely to choose four-year, private, or selective institutions.


  • Students in rural counties are only 85 percent as likely as their metropolitan peers to enroll in higher education.
  • Students in rural counties who do go to college are much more likely to choose two-year institutions.
  • While all students in lower-income brackets are less likely to go to college and less likely to choose selective institutions, that disparity is smaller among rural students than their metropolitan peers.
  • The opportunity gap may be helped to close through better alignment between school and college curricula; more dual-enrollment programs, in which high-school students can pursue college credit; and recruitment, admissions policies, and financial-aid awards directed toward rural students.

Bottom Line: Despite much research on populations underrepresented in higher education, rural students have received relatively little attention, especially using more-recent data. Further analysis of their college-going patterns and corresponding changes in policy are necessary to improve their educational attainment and economic prospects.

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