College Enrollment Patterns for Rural Indiana High School Graduates

Matthew Burke, Elisabeth Davis, and Jennifer Stephan

Research has shown a gap in college enrollment and degree attainment between students in rural and nonrural high schools. In Indiana, where 31 percent of high school students attend rural schools, increasing postsecondary educational attainment requires under standing and addressing the needs and challenges of rural students. This descriptive study supports the state’s efforts to improve college readiness by offering a better understanding of the processes that advance the educational success of rural students and by providing a foundation for future research on these processes and potential interventions.

The report examines differences in presumptive college eligibility, college enrollment rates, and differences in the types of state colleges attended by rural and nonrural Indiana 2010 high school graduates. Researchers 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. 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.