Postsecondary education is a fundamental tool for achieving upward mobility and economic growth. Students with an associate's or bachelor's degree earn substantially more in a lifetime and experience better working conditions and job benefits than students with only a high school diploma. This study examines differences in public college enrollment rates as well as the usefulness of previously identified early college success predictors in predicting presumptive college eligibility for 2010 graduates of Indiana public rural and nonrural high schools.
The study explored five research questions on 2010 graduates of Indiana public rural and nonrural high schools who enrolled in Indiana public colleges:
- What proportion of graduates of rural and nonrural high schools enrolled in college, enrolled in different types of colleges (two- or four-year colleges of varying selectivity), and enrolled full-time?
- Did graduates of rural and nonrural high schools differ in their academic preparation or eligibility for the school lunch program (a proxy for low-income status)?
- Where are two- and four-year colleges located, and how does distance from high schools to colleges vary for graduates of rural and nonrural high schools who enrolled in Indiana public colleges?
- What proportion of rural and nonrural high school graduates who enrolled in college had academic characteristics that made them "presumptively eligible" for two- or four-year public colleges of varying selectivity? What proportion who enrolled in a college undermatched with their level of presumptive eligibility?
- After student- and school-level characteristics were controlled among high school graduates who enrolled in a public college, did any rural-nonrural differences remain with respect to enrolling in a two-year program?
The study used administrative data from the Indiana state longitudinal data system and the Indian Commission for Higher Education. A similar proportion of graduates of rural and nonrural Indiana public high schools enrolled in college. However, rural graduates were more likely than nonrural graduates to enroll in a two-year college and less likely to enroll in a very selective four-year college.
The report found that:
- Rural and nonrural graduates entered college at similar rates, had similar academic preparation, and had similar levels of presumptive eligibility for colleges of various selectivity levels according to their academic qualifications. Yet rural graduates were more likely to enroll in two-year than four-year colleges and in colleges that were "undermatched" with their level of presumptive eligibility. Even after accounting for student and school characteristics, this finding held true;
- About a third of rural graduates and a quarter of nonrural graduates enrolled in colleges that were less selective than colleges for which they were presumptively eligible; and
- Distance may have been a factor: rural graduates traveled farther than nonrural graduates to attend both two-year and less selective four-year colleges, but the farther rural graduates' high schools were from colleges, the more likely they were to enroll in a two-year college or to undermatch with a college.