The challenge of college readiness in rural schools

The challenge of college readiness in rural schools

(Colo.) Although the number of high school students attending rural districts who took advanced placement exams has more than doubled over the last decade, students in urban schools are still almost twice as likely to participate in the college readiness testing.

According to a survey from the Education Commission of the States, rural high school graduation rates are on par with their counterparts in cities and the suburbs. But after graduation, only about 45 percent of rural students go on to four-year colleges compared to 49 percent of students from urban schools, and 52 percent of those from suburban high schools.

“State policy considering and prioritizing the specific needs of rural schools can play a clear role in addressing the rural AP opportunity gap,” authors of the report said.

“Unlike rural high schools, urban and suburban high schools have already achieved nearly universal access to AP for their students,” the authors pointed out. “Given the lagging college-going rates of rural students, and the potential of AP participation to improve those rates, it is certainly a laudable goal to increase the AP opportunities available to rural students.”

Although perhaps a shrinking part of the education landscape, districts in rural areas still represent about 30 percent of all public schools in the nation and serve about one-fifth of all students.

Generally defined as communities containing less than 2,500 residents, rural school districts are typically cash-strapped because of a less robust tax base. but are still required to provide the same services. The geographic remoteness adds expenses when it comes to such things as transportation and campus maintenance.

Rural schools have traditionally struggled to attract and retain high-quality teachers and often still lack good access to broadband internet and other new learning resources.

The commission report found that rural students had improved access to the college readiness exam but still lagged city dwellers:

  • Access to the AP exam for rural high school seniors went from 42 percent in 2001 to 62 percent in 2015.
  • During that same period, 82 percent of urban seniors had access to the AP exam in 2001 and by 2015, the number had grown to 88 percent.

Rural students also didn’t do as well on the test, according to results from the 2015 cohort:

  • About 53 percent of rural students earned a score of three or higher on a scale of five.
  • Almost 60 percent of seniors from urban districts achieved college ready scores, and 67 percent of those from suburban schools did the same.

The number of times rural students were able to take the test also compared less favorably:

  • Urban and suburban seniors took the AP exam an average of 3.4 times.
  • Rural students were able to take it an average of 2.6 times.

“The data show that, on average, rural students score lower on AP exams overall than their urban and suburban counterparts, although these differences are less dramatic than differences in the average number of exams students take,” the commission said.