Rural High School Aspirations Study

Overview of Rural High School Aspirations Study

The Rural High School Aspirations Study (RHSA) was designed to generate new information about: 1) rural high school students’ educational, vocational, and residential plans and aspirations for the future; 2) students’ preparatory activities and planning for postsecondary education, work, and adult life; and 3) the impact of school experiences, geographic location, economic status, cultural or ethnic origins, family background, peer relations, and community characteristics on rural students’ aspirations and preparatory activities. To accomplish these goals, members of the RHSA team used surveys and interviews to gather information from students, parents, teachers, and school administrators. During the 2007-2008 school years, project staff traveled to 73 rural high schools across 34 states. In spring of 2009 and fall of 2009, the research team conducted follow-up site visits to conduct focus group interviews with students, educators, and community leaders in a random subsample of 12 study sites.

For the RHSA study, schools were selected from more than100,000 public schools across the United States. Using urban-centric locale codes of the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES), small town and rural schools were randomly selected. Particular attention was given to including schools that qualified for federal funding directed at small and low-income schools (RLIS and SRSA) under the U.S. Department of Education’s Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP). In total, 8,754 students took part in the survey. In addition, 792 parents, 667 teachers, and 69 administrators participated in surveys and interviews.

Key Findings of Rural High School Aspirations Study

After completion of the data collection phase of the project, RHSA investigators initiated a series of studies to address the three primary aims of the study. For the first research aim, student survey results indicated that a majority of the participants wanted to further their education beyond high school. In fact, 36% of the students wanted to complete a four-year degree, and 35% wanted to obtain an advanced degree. In addition, more than 50% of the students aspired to careers that required a four-year college or an advanced degree. Students also reported a variety of careers they wanted to pursue with the largest group (24%) aspiring to a career in healthcare. The data revealed little differences in youth's educational and vocational aspirations across geographic location (e.g., small town vs. rural). When asked about adult residential aspirations, survey results indicated that a majority of the participants (72%) expected to live in a small town or rural community within their home state (42%) or another state (15%).

For the second research aim, we explored students’ preparation for postsecondary education and occupations. Results indicated that rural students consult multiple sources. Students reported that parents and school counselors were the most helpful sources of information. However, much of the career counseling occurred by teachers within the classroom. Over one-third of the students reported they had not talked to a counselor in the past year. Additionally, many students reported they had not taken part in school-to-work transition programs including job shadowing, mentoring, and internships. When offered, students with disabilities were slightly more likely to take part in school-to-work transition programs than their non-disabled peers. Although disabled and non-disabled students reported receiving similar levels of college and career counseling, students with disabilities received counseling focused more on finding a job than attending a two- or four-year college. At the school level, findings indicate that larger schools with higher student enrollment were more likely to offer college preparatory programs compared to smaller schools. In addition, smaller schools and more remote schools were less likely to offer advanced placement courses.

For our third research aim, we explored what factors impacted rural students’ aspirations and preparatory activities. Regarding education aspirations, girls were more likely to aspire to postsecondary education than boys. In addition, students who had more positive perceptions of the local economy and planned to remain in their home community were less likely to aspire to postsecondary education. At the family level, students who experience greater family hardship and those who had greater levels of respect and identification with their parents were less likely to aspire to postsecondary education. However, students who reported greater parental expectations for college were more likely to aspire to postsecondary education. Finally, a number of school and schooling-experience variables predicted educational aspirations. Students living in more remote rural areas were less likely to aspire to postsecondary education. However, across schools, students who were enrolled in college preparatory programs, had taken part in postsecondary preparation activities, and had higher levels of achievement, academic self-concept, and school valuing were more likely to aspire to postsecondary education. Results indicate that many of the same factors influence vocational aspirations.

Turning to preparation activities, the research suggests that while students consult with multiple sources about their futures, girls and White students report greater involvement in consulting with school and family sources about their futures. When students were asked about involvement in college and career counseling activities at school, students in the upper grades were more likely to have taken part in these activities. In addition, students who had more positive schooling experiences (e.g., sense of belonging), particularly those who reported that school personnel helped them prepare for their futures, were more likely to report taking part in these preparatory activities. Although many students reported little or no involvement in school-to-work transition programs, results indicate that those youth who do take part in programs such as job mentoring, job shadowing, or internships, tend to be boys, older, and African American or Hispanic/Latino. Additionally, a greater number of these youth were enrolled in the vocational preparatory track and report more positive schooling experiences.

Summary

The RHSA results have important implications for secondary programs. A majority of rural youth are aspiring to continue their education beyond high school. They are also choosing jobs and occupations that will require a college education. Furthermore, a majority of the RHSA youth planned to live in a small town or rural community as adults. From the perspective of community development, the results indicate that schools continue to play a critical role in building sustainable rural and small town communities. However, it appears that rural youth have limited access to the advanced coursework, college and career counseling, and other postsecondary preparation programs to prepare for the transition to postsecondary education or adult work. Additional research is needed to determine how rural schools can use available social and community capital to help youth achieve their adult goals.


Rural High School Aspirations Staff

Dr. Judith Meece— Principal Investigator

Dr. Thomas Farmer— Co-Principal Investigator

Dr. Glen Elder— Investigator

Dr. Matthew Irvin—Investigator

Dr. Vonnie McLoyd—Investigator

Dr. Kai Schafft - Investigator

Dr. Soo-yong Byun - Postdoctoral Scholar

Dr. Margaret Weiss - Research Scientist

Bryan C. Hutchins - Field Services Coordinator

Rural High School Aspirations Study Research Briefs

Educational Aspirations of Rural Adolescents

Educational Barriers of Rural Adolescents

How Rural Youth Prepare for their Futures

School Adjustment for High Risk Youth and Youth with Disabilities

Vocational Aspirations of Rural Adolescents

Rural High School Aspirations Study and Affiliated Research Publications

Byun, S.-Y., Irvin, M. J., & Meece, J. L. (2011). Rural-nonrural disparities in postsecondary education attainment revisited. American Educational Research Journal. Advance online publication. doi:10.3102/0002831211416344

Byun, S.-Y., Irvin, M. J., & Meece, J. L. (2011). Rurality, social capital, and college completion. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Byun, S.-Y., Irvin, M. J., & Meece, J. L. (in press). Predictors of bachelor’s degree completion among rural students at four year institutions. Review of Higher Education.

Byun, S.-Y., Meece, J. L., Irvin, M. J., & Hutchins, B. C. (2011). The role of social capital in educational aspirations of rural youth. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Estell, D. B., Farmer, T. W., Irvin, M. J., Hutchins, B. C., & McDonough, E. (2007). Patterns of middle school adjustment and ninth grade adaptation of rural African American youth: Grades and substance use. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 36, 477-487. doi:10.1007/s10964-007-9167-5

Farmer, T. W., Dadisman, K., Latendresse, S. J., Thompson, J. H., Irvin, M. J., & Zhang, L. (2006). Educating out and giving back: Adults' conceptions of successful outcomes of African American high school students from impoverished rural communities. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 21(10), 1-12.

Farmer, T. W., Hall, C. M., Weiss, M. P., Petrin, R. A., Meece, J. L., & Moohr, M. (2011). The school adjustment of rural adolescents with and without disabilities: Variable and person-centered approaches. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 20, 78-88. doi:10.1007/s10826-010-9379-2

Farmer, T. W., Irvin, M. J., Thompson, J. H., Hutchins, B. C., & Leung, M-C. (2006). School adjustment and the academic success of rural African American early adolescents in the Deep South. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 21(3), 1-14.

Farmer, T. W., Leung, M-C., Weiss, M. P., Irvin, M. J., Meece, J. L., & Hutchins, B. C. (2011). Social network placement of rural secondary students with disabilities: Affiliation and centrality. Exceptional Children, 78, 24-38.

Griffin, D., Hutchins, B. C., & Meece, J. L. (2011). Where do rural high school students go to find information about their futures? Journal of Counseling & Development, 89, 172-181.

Hutchins, B. C., Meece, J. L., Byun, S.-Y., & Farmer, T. W. (2011). Planning for the future: An investigation of work-bound rural youth. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Hutchins, B. C., Meece, J. L., Farmer, T. W., & Locke, B. (2011). The influences of students’ schooling experiences on career counseling and exploration activities of rural high school youth. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Irvin, M. J. (2011). Role of student engagement in the resilience of African American adolescents from low income rural communities. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Irvin, M. J., Byun, S-Y, Meece, J. L., & Farmer, T. W. (2011). Educational barriers of rural youth: Relation of individual and contextual difference variables. Journal of Career Assessment. Advance online publication. doi:10.1177/1069072711420105

Irvin, M. J., Farmer, T. W., Leung, M-C, Thompson, J. H., & Hutchins, B. C. (2010). School, community, and church activities: Relationship to academic achievement of low-income African American early adolescents in the rural Deep South. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 25(4), 1-21.

Irvin, M. J., Farmer, T. W., Weiss, M. P., Meece, J. L., Byun, S.-Y., McConnell, B. M., & Petrin, R. A. (2011). Perceptions of school and aspirations of rural students with learning disabilities and their nondisabled peers. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 26, 2-14. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5826.2010.00320.

Irvin, M. J., Meece, J. L., Byun, S.-Y., Farmer, T. W., & Hutchins, B. C. (2011). Relationship of school context to rural youth’s educational achievement and aspirations. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 40, 1225-1242. doi:10.1007/s10964-011-9628-8

Irvin, M.J., Petersen, S., Meece, J. L., & Farmer, T. W. (2011). Educational expectations of rural African American adolescents: Longitudinal relations with math and English achievement. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Meece, J. L., Hutchins, B. C., Byun, S.-Y., Farmer, T. W., Irvin, M. J., & Weiss, M. P. (2011). Preparing for adulthood: A recent examination of the alignment of rural youth’s educational and vocational aspirations. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Petrin, R. A., Farmer, T. W., Meece, J. L., & Byun S-Y. (2011). Interpersonal competence configurations, attachment to community, and residential aspirations of rural youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 40, 1091-1105. doi:10.1007/s10964-011-9690-2

Schaefer, V. A. (2009). I have a dream? Rural adolescents’ educational aspirations and achievement. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC.

Schaefer, V. A., & Meece, J. L. (2011). Facing an uncertain future: Aspirations and achievement of rural youth. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Weiss, M. P., Hutchins, B. C., & Meece, J. L. (in press). The postsecondary educational plans and preparatory activities of rural youth with and without disabilities. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals.

Weiss, M. P., Irvin, M. J., & Meece, J. L. (2011) Teacher expectations and student educational aspirations in rural schools: Congruence and relation to student background. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Rural High School Aspirations Study Presentations

Dadisman, K. & Cleary, M. (2007, October). Rural students’, parents’ and teachers’ perceptions of the transition from high school to adult life. Paper presented at the Research Symposium of the National Rural Education Association, Oklahoma City, OK.

Meece, J. L., & Farmer, T. W. (2008, June). The Rural High School Aspirations Study. Poster presented at the annual conference of the Institute of Educational Sciences, Washington, D.C.

Irvin, M.J., Petersen, S., Meece, J., & Farmer, T.W. (2009, April). Educational expectations of rural African American adolescents: Longitudinal relations with math and English achievement. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Diego, CA.

Schaefer, V. A., & Meece, J. (2009, April). Facing an uncertain future: The educational aspirations and achievement of rural youth. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. San Diego, CA.

Meece, J. L., & Farmer, T. W. (2009, May). Preliminary results of the Rural High School Aspirations Study. Presentation to the Organizations Concerned about Rural Education (OCRE), Washington, DC.

Meece, J. L., & Farmer, T. W. (2009, June). The Rural High School Aspirations Study. Poster presented at the annual conference of the Institute of Educational Sciences, Washington, D.C.

Hutchins, B. (2009, October). Where do rural high school students go to find information about their futures? Results of the Rural High Aspirations Study. Paper presented at the Research Symposium of the National Rural Education Association, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Meece, J. (2009, November). Overview of Rural High School Aspirations Study. Presentation at the Supporting Rural Schools and Communities Research Conference, Chapel Hill, NC.

Meece, J. (2009, November). Schooling influences on rural youths’ educational aspirations. Presentation at the Supporting Rural Schools and Communities Research Conference, Chapel Hill, NC.

Askew, K. J., Meece, J. L., Irvin, M. J., Byun, S.-Y., & Hutchins, B. C. (2010, March). Rural adolescents' extracurricular activity involvement. Paper presented at biennial meeting of Society for Research on Adolescence, Philadelphia, PA.

Hutchins, B., Meece, J. L., Byun, S.-Y., Locke, B., Shaffer, L., Sogo, W., & Wilson, P. (2010, March) Educational and occupational aspiration alignment among rural high school youth. Poster presented at the biennial meeting of the Society of Research on Adolescence, Philadelphia, PA.

Byun, S.-Y., Meece, J. L., & Irvin, M. J. (2010, May). Rural-nonrural differences in educational attainment: Results from the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988-2000. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Denver, CO.

Byun, S.-Y., Meece, J. L., & Irvin, M. J. (2010, May). Rurality, social capital, and college completion. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Denver, CO.

Hutchins, B. C., Meece, J. L, Byun, S.-Y., & Farmer, T. W. (2010, October). Planning for the future: An investigation of work and college-bound rural youth. Presentation made at the annual meeting of the National Rural Education Association, Branson, MO.

Weiss, M. P., Meece, J. L., & Farmer, T. W. (2010, October). Preparing rural youth for the future: School administrators’ perspective. Presentation made at the annual meeting of the National Rural Education Association, Branson, MO.

Meece, J. L. (2010, November). Rural High School Aspirations study. Invited presentation, REL Midwest Webinar.

Hutchins, B. C., Irvin, M. J., Farmer, T. W., & Meece, J. L. (2011, April). School context and peer networks in diverse rural communities. Poster presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Montreal, QC.

Askew, K. J. S., Meece, J. L., Irvin, M. J., Byun, S.-Y., & Hutchins, B. C. (2011, April). Associations between rural adolescents' extracurricular activity participation and job values in six activity domains. Poster presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Montreal, QC.

Irvin, M. J., Meece, J. L., Byun, S.-Y., Farmer, T. W., & Hutchins, B. C. (2011, April). Relation of community, family, and school contexts to rural youth's educational achievement and aspirations. Poster presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Montreal, QC.

Meece, J. L., Byun, S.-Y., Irvin, M. J., Farmer, T. W., Askew, K. J. S., & Hutchins, B. C. (2011, April). Gender differences in educational aspirations of rural youth. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA.

Schafft, K. A., Petrin, R. A., & Farmer, T. W. (2011, July). Achievers, stayers, seekers and others: Brain drain and the potential for rural return among rural high school students. Paper presented at the 73rd Annual Rural Sociological Society Meetings, Boise, ID.