Remembering where you came from : portraits of rural students in higher education
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The number of studies related to students from rural backgrounds in higher education has waned in recent decades; however, over one-third of children in the United States continue to be educated in rural locales and their college-going and college-completion rates lag behind those of their urban and suburban peers. Because many rural students are white, they are typically considered part of the white majority on campuses, but they often encounter challenges unique to students from rural backgrounds and unlike those of their majority white peers from urban or suburban backgrounds. Therefore, a number of researchers have called for additional, qualitative studies regarding students from rural backgrounds as a unique cultural group and their experiences with higher education. The current study utilizes portraiture, the qualitative methodology developed by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot and Jessica Hoffmann-Davis, and a cultural framework combining social capital and critical standpoint theories to explore factors that affect students' enrollment, persistence, experiences, and perceptions related to higher education. Six students from one rural Texas high school who graduated in the top ten percent of their high school classes participated in the study, which included in-depth interviews, observations, and analyses. Each of the students collaborated in the creation of his or her portrait as well; these portraits portray the students' higher education experiences in considerable detail. Several factors are shown to have an impact on the experiences of rural students in higher education, including social capital, relationships, tacit knowledge, and finances. The study also demonstrates that female students from rural backgrounds face additional barriers related to higher education, such as romantic relationships, limitations on their future plans, and self-confidence. Implications for research, practice, and policy are also offered as opportunities to improve the experiences of rural students in higher education, and ultimately, their college enrollment and persistence rates.