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Rural Students Transitioning to Postsecondary



According to a new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education (2010), Current Challenges and Opportunities in Preparing Rural High School Students for Success in College and Careers, (p. 3):

  • More than 3.4 million American students currently attend rural high schools.
  • One in four rural students fails to graduate from high school, and the rate is even higher for minority youth.
  • Only 17% of rural adults age 25 and older have a college degree—half the percentage of urban adults.

The report also observes that "globalization and the technological revolution have had a profound impact on rural communities" due to the need for higher level work skills and the transition to a knowledge-based economy (p. 3). Challenges for rural schools include shrinking tax bases, education funding inequities, recruiting and retaining effective teachers, limited access to AP and IB courses, increasing diversity, small enrollments, geographic isolation, limited purchasing power, and "the out-migration of young people and professionals" (p.3). On the plus side, rural school assets and potential include increasing access to innovative technology, including distance-learning and place-based learning opportunities, and high levels of volunteer support from parents and other concerned stakeholders (p.3).  

"[T]he report underscores the need for federal solutions that effectively address the following issues" (p.4-5) in order to ensure that rural high school graduates are prepared for postsecondary education and employment:

  • Ensuring fair and adequate federal investments
  • Providing high standards and demanding courses
  • Improving rural high school accountability
  • Expanding student supports and options
  • Recruiting and retaining highly effective teachers
  • Building strong models of community support
  • Setting high expectations for college and career success

Additional Resources

Center for Rural Education
Office of Adult and Vocational Education, U.S. Department of Education
Serves as a resource for rural schools by providing information on research, practice, policy, and other issues relating to students in rural schools.  

Navigating Resources for Rural Schools
Institute of Education Science, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education
Provides information, resources, and data on rural schools including the definition of rural schools, vocational education and technology use in rural schools, and more.

National Rural Education Center
National membership organization of rural school administrators, teachers, school board members, higher education representatives, service agency representatives, and others with the goal of "providing services that will enhance educational opportunities for rural schools and their communities."  

National Research Center on Rural Education Support
Collects data and examines various aspects of rural education on several topics including the "Rural High School Aspirations Study" which is currently underway.


Alliance for Excellent Education. (2010, February). Current challenges and opportunities in preparing rural high school students for success in college and careers: What federal policymakers need to know. Washington, DC: Author. Available at  




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