- Colleges rarely send recruiters to rural high school campuses because doing so is not cost-effective. Recruiters can see many more students a day in urban or suburban communities, and students in rural areas often come from lower-income backgrounds and have greater college financial needs, making them less profitable for colleges, NPR reports.
- Other challenges to rural recruiting come from the communities themselves. Students in rural areas are often hesitant to leave smaller communities they know and love and move to bustling college campuses. In addition, their parents often fear that students who attend college may leave their home area for good.
- When rural students attend college, however, they help to increase the diversity of backgrounds on campus. Rural economies also benefit from having a more educated workforce and the national economy relies on rural communities. An influx of rural students can also help colleges as overall enrollment is declining.
Attending college not only opens opportunities for students, it also opens economic opportunities for communities. This point was illustrated in Michigan when the state lost out on a second Amazon headquarters because it did not have enough college graduates. In rural parts of the country that have a limited number of industries, like Appalachia, losing a major industry hits especially hard and the lack of enough college graduates in the area can make it difficult to recruit new industries, especially as many are based on newer technologies. This reality is causing what some have called a “rural higher education crisis.”
Some colleges are recognizing the benefits of reaching students in rural areas, including those in Michigan and the Appalachian region. In Minnesota, some private colleges are also making a larger effort to recruit rural students. And North Carolina State University has created a special program to attract rural students.
Colleges are also starting to find out more about what works to attract rural students. Online efforts don’t usually do as well because Internet resources tend to be more limited at homes in these areas. However, connecting with students personally by sending college professors out to schools to speak on topics and establish relationships with students seems to be more effective.
At the high school level, schools can also do more to address the issue. By presenting college as a viable option early on and working with families to change attitudes toward college, schools can lessen the natural resistance that sometimes occurs in rural communities. Holding virtual college fairs at schools and offering opportunities for field trips to college campuses for interested students can also help familiarize students with college. Helping students prepare for a college future by offering rigorous courses (sometimes online) that can earn them college credit can also help them see college as a possibility. And school counselors can work with students to explore college scholarships that are designed for rural students. School leaders can build connections with colleges and college advising organizations to create these opportunities, improving the future for students and for the community as well.