Rural Area Students Face Barriers to Higher Education

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

At least 9.3 million students go to public schools in rural areas, “more than the combined total of the nation’s 85 largest school districts,” Nichole Dobo reported for the Hechinger Report in September 2022. “Although rural schools have made tremendous gains in high school graduation rates,” Dobo wrote, “these students are still less likely than their suburban and urban peers to successfully continue their education after high school,” due to distinct challenges facing rural students and the schools that serve them.

Many rural schools face a “dire shortage” of teachers. At the start of the 2021-2022 school year, for example, the state of Colorado had 380 openings for educators in its public schools serving rural communities, and more than half of these remained unfilled by the end of the school year, Dobo reported. Consequently, schools had no choice but to hire staff that had not received proper training to become school teachers, especially in specialized courses.

Dobo’s report profiled one striking exception to this trend: Robert Mitchell, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, who originally made a four-hour commute to Campo, a rural Colorado town with 103 residents, to study the needs of rural students. Shortly after Mitchell began his research in Campo’s school district––which has just one building and fewer than fifty students––the superintendent asked him if he could help teach Campo’s students, because the school could not hire teachers, especially ones qualified to teach advanced classes such pre-calculus. Mitchell agreed and now, five years later, he continues to make the four-hour drive to Campo to teach college-credit classes, help students complete college applications, and discuss their future endeavors.

The challenges faced by students in rural have not been well covered by corporate news media. But there are some notable exceptions. In September 2021, for example, a special issue of the New York Times Magazine focused on education included an in-depth article titled “The Tragedy of America’s Rural Schools.” The Times’ report focused on how public schools in rural communities often failed to adequately prepare students due to outdated textbooks, lack of qualified teachers, and dilapidated facilities. But, overall, the issue of rural education remains underreported by the establishment press.

Source: Nichole Dobo, “Waiting for the Traveling Teacher: Remote Rural Schools Need More Hands-on Help,” Hechinger Report, September 20, 2022.

Student Researchers: Hannah Finn, Laney Imbrogna, Kelsey Rowe, and Stephen Shaw (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)