Black, rural and impoverished: Are colleges ignoring these students?

Darris R. Means is an assistant professor in the University of Georgia College of Education. In the essay below, he examines the lack of outreach by colleges to rural youth, particularly black students.

Rural students are underrepresented at many colleges. The 2014 report, “The Effects of Rurality on College Access and Choice,” found students in rural areas were less likely than urban peers to enroll in higher education. When rural students go to college, they are also less likely to attend a four-year school, a private campus or a selective one.

I once talked to a counselor in a rural Georgia high school. A newcomer to Georgia, she told me many members of the school staff grew up in the area and attended college nearby. As a result, they tended to direct kids to the same college, figuring perhaps the students, like them, wanted to stay close to home. And they felt parents in the town preferred their children not to leave, according to the counselor.

Another issue for rural students is navigating the college admission process. (As a parent of two high school seniors, I can testify to the challenges of the application process. I am in awe of kids who travel this path without a lot of adult guidance.)

With that background, here is Dr. Means’ essay:

By Darris R. Means

Last fall, I was having a conversation with a group of high school students from a rural part of the Deep South. I asked them about college and university representatives that visited their predominantly black school, and I was shocked by their answers.

In his research, UGA's Darris Means focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion in K-12 and higher education contexts.

In his research, UGA’s Darris R. Means focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion in K-12 and higher education contexts.

I graduated from a suburban high school, and we had college and university representatives visiting on a regular basis. So I was surprised when this group of high school students shared that the only representatives they could recall were from the local technical college and military. While I believe technical or community colleges or the military are two avenues for students to pursue after high school, there should be more options.

But it is concerning if the only outside representatives coming to recruit students are from the local technical college and military — what message does that send to rural students, especially black rural students?

Over the past few years I have studied issues surrounding rural students of color and college access. My research took place in two different states, but both focused on residents of the “Black Belt,” a region in the U.S. south that is predominantly black, rural and impoverished.

And yet as I read about educational programs, policies, and initiatives targeting black elementary and secondary students, it’s clear black students are often associated with an urban context. By making this assumption, we miss critical opportunities for educational advancement and improvement among our rural residents, especially those of color. This intersection of race and rurality is often overlooked, but is essential to understand in order to create more equitable educational systems and environments for students of color.

According to the Rural School and Community Trust, there are about 9.7 million rural students in the United States (20.4 percent of all students) and about 2.6 million rural students of color (26.7 percent of all rural students). This means, without a shift in our policies and procedures, 2.6 million students may be overlooked on their way to college.

Many want to pursue college. In the recently published study in the Review of Higher Education, colleagues and I interviewed black high school students and staff members in a rural, predominantly black high school about their impressions of college access. Many students had parents, teachers, coaches and school counselors who pushed them to go to college, but this encouragement was tempered by a lack of resources.

For example, students overwhelmingly felt they had encouragement and support to go to college, yet didn’t have access to rigorous classes or enough one-on-one time with a counselor to get help with the college admission process (the college admission process can seem daunting, especially for someone who will be a first-generation college student). Also, students at the rural high school said they felt motivated to go to college, but also felt constrained by geography—pressure to attend a school closer to home for family reasons—or were concerned about fitting in or doing well academically.

There are several implications for this study:

•First, colleges and universities, especially the most selective state institutions, have an opportunity to think about ways to recruit students from rural communities.

•Second, educational leaders and state policymakers must consider how resource allocations affect rural students of color and their educational experiences. For example, how to provide access for students to take higher-level courses, such as Advancement Placement or International Baccalaureate courses, or dual enrollment at local colleges and universities. These courses may go a long way in helping students feel better prepared to enter higher education. In addition, it’s important to consider how to provide more college advisement for the most under-resourced schools in each state, which often includes rural schools.

I, too, am a product of the Black Belt. My two younger brothers and I were raised by my grandparents. They, in turn, were raised in a rural area of Spartanburg County, S.C., with limited formal education — shaped mainly by their race (black) and location (rural and Southern). Two generations later my more suburban education, and the opportunities it brought me, only heighten my awareness of race and rurality.

We cannot miss these opportunities for our rural students of color to open doors once untouched by previous generations.

 

Reader Comments 0

26 comments
Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

BTW, substitute "white students" in every instance the author refers to minority students or "students of color".  All y'all PC lemmings would be falling over yourselves calling him a "raycisss".

ErnestB
ErnestB

@Lee_CPA2


Again, he wrote about all rural students however focused on black students.  He obviously can relate to the experiences of black students more because of his grandparents in particular.


This article could have been written by someone from Appalachia about some of the students there and had the same impact, some student lack access and opportunity.  Not everyone has internet access to Google about what they have not been exposed to. 

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Oh good grief, there are 29 public universities and colleges across Georgia.  Another 22 technical colleges.  Yet another 34 private, not-for-profit colleges and institutions.  Then, there are the private, for-profit schools.  

Suffice to say, if you DESIRE to attend a post secondary school, there are ample opportunities.  So no, 2.6 million rural students of color are not being overlooked.

BTW, so this is what passes for "research"?!?!?!  Holy cow.

gapeach101
gapeach101

@ErnestB @Lee_CPA2 He probably can't imagine a field trip to the neighboring county so the kids could see an escalator.  Mr. Lee believes his experience is everyone's experience.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@ErnestB @Lee_CPA2

Did you read it?    He spent half the article whining about selective colleges not lining up to recruit rural blacks and spent the other half whining about what the government should be doing to spend scarce tax proceeds for a handful of "students of color".

ErnestB
ErnestB

@Lee_CPA2


Did you read this article?  His point was about the lack of exposure to higher education at the local schools.  obviously you've never been to areas of the country where some residents haven't been exposed to opportunities outside of where they live.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Poor rural students, period.  In fact, even middle class rural students, unless they are lucky enough to be legacies.

Starik
Starik

@Wascatlady That's where good teachers can step in. If you spot a really good brain in class encourage them to apply.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Starik @Wascatlady Even brains not so apparently good, Starik.  You might be amazed at what those "mediocre" brains end up accomplishingQ

CautiouslyOptimistic
CautiouslyOptimistic

Are colleges ignoring these students?  Apparently so.  BUT, what are the local high schools doing to encourage additional colleges to visit?  Based on the examples in the article it sounds like the high school teachers/counselors contribute to this situation.  High schools need to encourage kids to look further than their own backyard.  They may decide to stay in their own backyard but they needs to make informed decisions and it seems that these kids are being failed on multiple fronts.

insideview
insideview

Why? Only white people say this because they have no frame of reference for how people of color feel.

Starik
Starik

@insideview Everything isn't about race, and the more we emphasize it we prolong the wait until it become as significant as hair and eye color. 

kaelyn
kaelyn

My father, a product of the rural South, back in the sixties was recruited to attend an east coast college. The career opportunities made available to him were the direct result of that education. I doubt that he would have had the same opportunities had he not left home.

My mother's family is from a predominantly white eastern city. They all attended integrated schools dating back to around 1930. They were exposed to colleges from an early age because recruiters often visited their schools. By the time I hit high school in the 80s, the only question was where I'd go to college, not how. The how had been answered two generations ago.

I went to school with a lot of working class kids, mainly white, many who never stepped inside a college classroom. The manufacturing jobs that once provided stable incomes for their families are long gone, and they don't have experience navigating college admissions and finances. I see the point the author is making, BUT there's an even bigger picture to consider. Poor and working class kids, regardless of skin color, are at a disadvantage when it comes to attending four year colleges.

redweather
redweather

@kaelyn There seems to be a growing chorus of voices in the south questioning the need for a college education. This coincides with two facts: the rising cost of a college education and the increase in non-white students seeking a college education. I leave it to readers to decide what to make of this.

ErnestB
ErnestB

@redweather @kaelyn


Who are members of this chorus?  If not college, additional education/training beyond high school is necessary for employment in today's global economy.  Are these opportunities provided as options for those in rural communities.  Though the author spoke from his personal lenses, that is the essence of this piece.

kaelyn
kaelyn

@ErnestB. I don't live in a rural area, but I doubt that kids there are being presented with viable training options beyond high school. I certainly understand the author's point, having had a father who came from the same background. However, I believe that social class/income is an even bigger factor here than race. Just my two cents.

Astropig
Astropig

@redweather @kaelyn


Could you cite who exactly is questioning the need for a college education?That flies in the face of common sense.In fact,that's implausible.


Further,are you implying that people are actually trying to dissuade their kids from college because "non-white" students can be found there? That's not implausible,that's just crazy.Anyone that would warn their kids off of higher education because of racial diversity probably doesn't have kids smart enough to get into college anyway.


Good grief.They pay you? You are employed? How? 

ErnestB
ErnestB

Thought provoking piece.  My father grew up in rural GA and was being steered towards being a farmer like his father.  His determination led him leaving home and enrolling in college with little money.  His actions influenced his younger siblings and their offspring where now going to college/technical schools is expected of everyone in our family.


We can see this through our family however I wonder about those that do not have role models, especially within their family.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@ErnestB


That (as role models and by caring for their students) is where teachers can have a tremendous effect upon their students' lives, leading them gently and with the necessary skills to pursue higher education of some nature.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@ErnestB The book, "How the Poor Get to College," looks at the importance of just ONE PERSON, whether parent, teacher, family friend, or whomever, who will take the student by the hand, sometimes literally, and convince them that "You DO belong in a postsecondary school."


With my very rural 5 year olds, each year I took them to North Georgia College on a field trip.  I wanted to show them people just like them not working at the carpet mill or chicken plant.  I wanted to show them the amazing things that college campuses offer--from INDOOR SWIMMING POOLS to natural history collections!  From cadet drills to dorms where people who don't know each other live together!  And, in conferences, I talked to their parents, to encourage them so they might develop educational aspirations for their children.


Then, when I taught ESOL, I began sponsoring parent education nights.  By this time we had the HOPE awards.  I talked to their parents, at every meeting, about the opportunities open to their children with hard work (and these people know about hard work.)  And I talked to the kids and took them on field trips to expand their experiential backgrounds, so they could SEE what was out there, and thus develop aspirations for it.


You have to plant the seed, and it should start early.  For many of us, it started before we were born, so that the decision was not IF, but WHERE.  This is something we can all do, whether in church, or school, or with parents who might not know, in casual situations.  Really, our children need postsecondary education, in one form or another, for our own good, if not theirs.

redweather
redweather

The answer to the question posed by this headline is a resounding "Yes."  But it's not like this just started happening.

Corey
Corey

I too grew up and attended schools in rural SC and when I was about to graduate from high school the nation was undergoing a liberal shift toward inclusiveness, opportunity and vibrant outreach to minority students. Along came the eighties and the conservative movement.