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Rural-Nonrural Differences in College Attendance Patterns

Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations, Vol. 90, No. 2

Soo-yong Byun, The Pennsylvania State University
Matthew J. Irvin, University of South Carolina
Judith L. Meece, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


Using data from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988, this study documented college attendance patterns of rural youth in terms of the selectivity of first postsecondary institution of attendance, the timing of transition to postsecondary education, and the continuity of enrollment. The study also examined how these college attendance patterns among rural students differed from those among their nonrural counterparts and which factors explained these rural–nonrural differences. Results showed that rural youth were less likely than their nonrural counterparts to attend a selective institution. In addition, rural youth were more likely to delay entry to postsecondary education compared to their urban counterparts. Finally, rural students were less likely than their urban counterparts to be continuously enrolled in college. Much of these rural–nonrural disparities in college attendance patterns were explained by rural–nonrural differences in socioeconomic status and high school preparation. Policy implications, limitations of the study, and future research directions are also discussed.


Soo-yong Byun is Assistant Professor of Educational Theory and Policy at the Penn State University. His main fields of interest are sociology of education, international comparative education, educational policy analysis and program evaluation, and quantitative methods and statistics. He received a Ph.D. in Educational Policy and Administration from the University of Minnesota at Twin Cities with a specialization in Comparative and International Development Education.

Matthew J. Irvin is an Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology and Research at the University of South Carolina. His research focuses on the learning and development of youth from rural areas and youth with disabilities.

Judith L. Meece is Professor of Educational Psychology in the School of Education, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her primary areas of research are school- and classroom-related influences on motivation and educational outcomes of underserved youth. She received a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Michigan.