I’m Goldie Blumenstyk, a senior writer at The Chronicle covering innovation in and around academe. Here’s what I’m thinking about this week.

New findings on college-access work during the pandemic, rural-suburban STEM disparities, and improving transfer.

This week in my annotated reading list, per The Edge’s summer schedule, I share thinking on the power of counseling in college enrollment, what discourages rural students from pursuing STEM majors, and ways to ease barriers to transfer.

  • Counseling still makes all the difference for students from low-income families and others for whom “college knowledge” isn’t common knowledge. For such students — many attending high schools with inadequate advising resources — college-access organizations often fill in the gaps. The pandemic presented an unwelcome stress test for those groups, which have continued to show positive results, although a new report from the National College Attainment Network describes overall outcomes as “bittersweet.” The reason: While students served by college-access groups kept enrolling at higher rates than did peers at comparable schools without such services, the total college enrollment of students from NCAN-served high schools declined, to about 59 percent in the fall of 2020, a drop of about 10 percentage points from the previous fall.

    The findings in NCAN’s “Closing the College Graduation Gap” benchmarking report reminded me of my discussion this year with the higher-education scholar Bridget Terry Long, who noted how 2020’s abrupt disruptions threw a monkey wrench into many of the programs that normally guide high schoolers and adults toward college.

    So while I get the disappointment over declines in enrollment — for the same population hardest hit by the pandemic and recession — to me, the findings of this report also underscore the value of the college counseling these organizations provide.

  • As wonks and policy makers intensify their attention on rural America, a new analysis shows a disparity in the share of rural students who study math and science compared with their suburban peers. The implications of that go far deeper than the size of college STEM departments: Jobs requiring scientific and technical knowledge are growing at twice the pace of others, and rural economies depend on such skills as well.

    The analysis of federal data on 20,000 students, in Educational Researcher, found that only 13 percent of rural and small-town students majored in math and science in college, compared with almost 17 percent of students in the suburbs. The study, described in thisHechinger Reportarticle, notes that an interest in science is initially similar for the two groups of students but declines over time for rural students. I’vebeenfollowingrural students, too, and to me, the falloff seemed even more significant than the size of the gap. The study found that rural schools tended to offer fewer advanced courses in science and math, have fewer teachers trained to teach them, and provide fewer opportunities outside of classes, such as science fairs, robotics competitions, and math clubs, that might further motivate students.

  • Community-college students attempting to transfer to four-year institutions often encounter “dismal outcomes and rife inefficiency.” Can yet another report on improving the transfer process make a difference? I’m not holding my breath, but at the very least, let’s pay some props to a paper that so bluntly calls out the persistent challenges.

    Many ideas in “The Transfer Reset: Rethinking Equitable Policy for Today’s Learners,” produced by the Tackling Transfer Policy Advisory Board (with its partners HCM Strategists, Sova, and the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program), aren’t all that new. A few also echo recommendations in an American Council on Education report on credit transfer published in March, particularly on better recognizing students’ prior learning and calling for states and higher-ed systems to accelerate work on tech systems to facilitate digital-transcript exchange and speed course-evaluation and degree-auditing processes. Such moves, the new report says, could “empower learners with electronic access to their lifelong learning records.” It also recommends something that the ACE report didn’t: a study of what more accreditors could do to smooth transfer. Those agencies already have a lot on their plates — and plenty of folks question their effectiveness. But I wonder how influential they could be if they chose to take this on.

Got a tip you’d like to share or a question you’d like me to answer? Let me know, at goldie@chronicle.com. If you have been forwarded this newsletter and would like to see past issues, find them here. To receive your own copy, free, register here. If you want to follow me on Twitter, @GoldieStandard is my handle.

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