Barriers to higher education for rural high school students: A qualitative study
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Rural high school students face many barriers when choosing to matriculate into higher education. With limited resources and support, rural students are less likely to enroll in college than their urban counterparts. This crisis is escalated when 90% of the fastest-growing high-wage jobs in the United States require not only a high school diploma, but demand higher education. The lack of college participation among rural high school students threatens to undermine an educated workforce and increased access to higher education for all populations. The purpose of this study was to provide secondary and postsecondary educational professionals a view of the needs of rural high school students through the lenses of high school counselors who provide vital college admissions guidance to these students, among their many other roles within high schools. Of specific interest was the identification of the barriers rural high school students face in matriculating into higher education, as well as current and missing support services that can assist rural high school students in pursuing postsecondary education. This qualitative collective case study analyzed the perceptions of three high school counselors who service rural high school students in the Texas High Plains region. A categorical aggregation analysis and open coding of the data collected in the study resulted in five emerging themes: 1) rural students’ lack of self-efficacy in their own academic abilities, 2) the intimidating costs of higher education, 3) a lack of parental/guardian support, 4) rural students’ motivations for matriculating to higher education, and 5) needed support services to address the barriers that rural students face when matriculating to higher education. The overall findings of the study indicated that rural high school students need additional support in addressing their perceived lack of self-efficacy when determining whether to pursue a college education or not after high school graduation. In addition, many rural students and their parents are uneducated in financing the cost of higher education, and prematurely dismiss the opportunity based upon perceived costs. Parental or guardian involvement in their student’s college decision making process is also a prescribed need for rural students to make higher education a possible reality.