Reconsidering Rural-Nonrural College Enrollment Gaps: The Role of Socioeconomic Status in Geographies of Opportunity


Rural students enroll in college at lower rates than nonrural students. This has been partially attributed to lower average socioeconomic status (SES) in rural areas. However, this assertion tends to ignore heterogeneity that may mask how SES shapes rural students’ college-going experiences. Utilizing a geography of opportunity framework, this study investigated how rural-nonrural differences in college-going vary based on SES. Analyses reveal that (a) rural and nonrural students in the High School Longitudinal Study (HSLS) had very similar mean SES; (b) rural status still predicted lower college enrollment rates overall, as well as four-year enrollment specifically; (c) the overall rural-nonrural enrollment gap was primarily a gap for low- and middle-SES students; and (d) there was greater socioeconomic inequality in college access in rural geographies than in nonrural geographies. These findings reinforce the fact rural students are not a monolithic group and emphasize the continued importance of SES between and within geographies. Given these findings, recommendations are provided with the intent of making college enrollment more equitable by the joint consideration of rurality and SES.

Publication Title

Research in Higher Education