NACAC - Spring 2020 - 30

college-level curriculum without fully understanding rural students and
their potential and achievements within the context of their region."
Tabrum is among a growing group of admission officials, high school
counselors, and college access professionals who say rural students don't
always have the same access to college as their counterparts in more
urban areas.
Darris R. Means, an associate professor at the University of Georgia
who has researched the problems rural students face as they explore and
enroll in college, worries about the subtle, implicit bias Tabrum describes.
"We shouldn't assume anything about these students. They are a
diverse group and have many strengths," he says, noting that admission
officers, counselors, parents, and others may underestimate or pigeonhole
rural students, contributing to "significant constraints for college access
and enrollment."
For instance, he is concerned that an overindulgence in "college isn't for
everyone" thinking might be more common in some rural areas and may limit
how students think about higher education. Meanwhile, some admission
offices may wrongly believe small town students are less likely to be
successful or won't fit in on campus, making retention a challenge.
Given the barriers, he and others who advocate for rural students have
developed a variety of ways they can be supported ranging from extra
guidance from peers or others in their close-knit school and community, to
early preparations to help them enthusiastically create a path to college
and thrive when they attend. Changing both college recruitment strategies
and the focus of high school counselors also might help. And addressing
the cost of higher education at the local, state, and federal levels would
potentially offer the biggest boost, Means says.

D

arah Tabrum can quickly list all the good qualities of her students at
Navajo Preparatory School, located in the remote, dry and rocky region
just east of where the northwest corner of New Mexico meets three
other states.
They are independent, she says, and resilient, with an excellent work
ethic and willingness to take on new challenges. Moreover, they develop
close ties to their peers and involve themselves in the community.
These are desirable characteristics that she hopes colleges will see
in the students, nearly all of whom are Native American. But Tabrum, a
former high school college and career coordinator who now serves as the
community engagement coordinator at Navajo Prep, also knows getting
that message across can be a challenge. Too often, she says, there are
sticky assumptions about students from minority groups and, more broadly,
students from rural areas.
"There are often negative ideas about what our students are capable
of. Some people don't fully understand what they can bring to the
table," Tabrum said. "Some colleges assume that they aren't ready for a

30

THE JOURNAL OF

COLLEGE ADMISSION

THE NUMBERS
Andrew Moe, one of the founders of NACAC's Rural and Small Town
Special Interest Group, notes that "despite being underrepresented on
college campuses and seeing few admission officers in their communities,
students in rural areas are going to college, albeit at lower rates than their
suburban and urban peers."
The 61 percent college enrollment rate of students in rural public
schools is at least 6 percent below the rate for students in suburban
and urban schools, according to national data. Rural students are also
considerably less likely to attend a selective college or university, more
likely to delay attendance, and, according to some researchers, more likely
to withdraw from college.
Undermatching can also be a concern. According to Sindy Lopez, an
analyst with Ithaka S+R who also has researched the issue, federal data
show that only 16 percent of rural students enroll in highly selective
colleges, compared to 30 percent of students from urban areas and 53
percent from the suburbs. In addition, she notes that using consistent
academic and social criteria, The Chronicle of Higher Education found rural
students were 2.5 times less likely to enroll in the top 50 universities and
liberal arts colleges, as defined by US News & World rankings.
That deficit occurs despite the fact that rural and small-town
students generally score better than average on National Assessment
of Educational Progress tests and finish school at nearly the same rate
as suburban students.



NACAC - Spring 2020

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