Rural Student Success Must Be a Priority for Arizona
By Dr. Richard Daniel
Educators, researchers, advocates, and policymakers nationwide are increasingly attentive to the educational experiences of rural students and the need to expand college access and success in rural communities. Thanks to this increased attention, there is more and more information available about the state of rural education, college access and success challenges, and the resources and services that rural students need.
Notably, the National College Access Network (NCAN) recently released a guide to rural student success that draws from the organization’s involvement with Rural Student Success Initiative and ongoing work in rural contexts and summarizes existing research on rural college-going. The guide highlights key ideas from the research and resources for rural college access and success.
Additionally, Partners for Education at Berea College annually convenes teachers, principals, superintendents, and other leaders at the Rural College Access and Success Summit. The Summit facilitates the exchange of ideas and strategies for ensuring college and career opportunities for rural students and highlights the best practices and key challenges associated with increasing such opportunities in rural contexts.
These efforts by College Success Arizona’s partners closely aligns with our own. We are committed to enabling more students in Arizona—especially students from groups that are underrepresented in higher education—access a college education and earn a certificate or degree. As part of these ongoing efforts, we began a research project, in 2018, that focused on the information and opportunity gaps that rural students experience when it comes to college access and success. This project, during which we spoke with numerous students and families and educators in rural Arizona, resulted in the publication of a special report intended to bring much needed attention to the rural students and the key factors that impact college-going.
In Arizona, almost half of all public school districts serve rural communities. Most of the students who attend schools in rural districts are racial/ethnic minorities, from low-income families, or both. Rural students also graduate high school and attend college at lower rates than their urban and suburban peers. Nonetheless, rural students are too often an afterthought—or else overlooked entirely—in statewide policy conversations about educational equity, improving K-12 quality, and increasing college access and attainment.
As a state we cannot continue to relegate rural students to the margins. It is vital that Arizona finds sustainable, scalable ways to increase college access and success for rural students. This will require a comprehensive approach that helps students and families better understand their college options, provides equitable K-12 education experiences that prepare rural students to succeed in college, and ensures that students have access to the financial aid resources that enable them to afford to attend and complete college.
Dr. Richard Daniel is the Executive Vice President and COO of College Success Arizona where he directs the organization’s research and policy activities.