Unpacking the Rural and Small Town Student Experience
NACAC's Special Interest Groups (SIGs) acknowledge the diverse experiences among college admission professionals and variety of students they serve. These groups provide micro-communities for individuals with shared interests to dialogue and share information and best practices. There are more than 30 SIGs whose focus areas include Community Colleges/Transfer, Community Based Organizations, Women in Admission, and many more. You can join a NACAC SIG even if you are not a NACAC member.
One such group, the Rural and Small Town SIG, aims to unite rural and small town admissions and school counseling professionals in the interest of increasing college access, awareness, and resources to students in rural areas.
Dustin Lynn, Director of College Counseling at Battle Ground Academy in Franklin, TN, shared with Common App the goals of the Rural and Small Town SIG, his thoughts on how colleges and universities can escalate outreach efforts to rural students, and the critical role of the counseling community.
What are the goals of the NACAC Rural and Small Town Special Interest Group?
The NACAC Rural and Small Town Special Interest Group, or simply Rural SIG, exists to connect school counseling and university enrollment professionals in the shared endeavor of supporting students from small towns and rural areas. We initiated the Rural SIG with the imperative of closing the college going gap between students from rural and urban areas. For instance, while students from rural areas are more likely to graduate from high school, they are less likely than their urban and suburban peers to attend college. Guided by this mission, our goals include:
- Identifying and connecting with school counselors from rural and small town areas.
- Building a coalition of higher education enrollment professionals dedicated to learning about the needs of rural students and their school counselors.
- Creating resources to help inform school counselors in rural and small town spaces about higher education and financial aid opportunities for their students.
- Creating resources to train college enrollment departments about the unique needs of rural and small town counselors and students and how institutions can support these communities.
How can colleges and universities improve outreach efforts to connect with students and school counselors located in rural areas?
What we have learned from school counselors who are part of the 1,300+ Rural SIG membership is that consistent, sustained engagement from colleges and universities is the most important need that exists in their communities. From our research, we have discovered that colleges connect much less frequently with high schools and school counselors from rural and small town areas compared to their colleagues in urban and suburban spaces.
To improve those outreach efforts, we suggest that college admission offices begin or bolster their efforts to identify schools that serve rural students and then engage with them. To facilitate this work, the Rural SIG has compiled helpful resources for enrollment officers, including a listing of over 10,000 federally designated rural and small town high schools in the United States per the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) as well as schools that counselors in the Rural SIG have indicated as serving rural and small town students. After identifying these populations, engagement is the key.
Through offering high school visits, webinars, phone calls with counselors, and sharing information about their institutions, we hope that college and university admission representatives can begin closing the information gap between rural and urban/suburban schools. Most importantly, though, we encourage college admission representatives to reach out and listen to their school counseling counterparts at these high schools before designing interventions. The needs of school counselors in rural and small town spaces vary greatly, as their schools and students represent a highly diverse cross-section of the United States, and listening to the unique needs of their community will help create meaningful and impactful partnerships between colleges and high school counselors.
For counselors wanting to help their students who can’t make it to campus learn more about a college or university’s campus environment, what options exist?
The Rural SIG has tackled this issue head-on and has created two guides to help counselors provide opportunities for their students and themselves to visit campuses. Many colleges and universities offer fly-in programs through which the college or university subsidizes travel to their institution for students.
We have created a robust guide of colleges and universities that offer fly-in programs that are “rural student friendly” as well as additional information for each institution’s fly-in program. Similarly, many colleges and universities offer fly-in opportunities for school counselors to learn more about their campus and offerings, too. We are currently finalizing a guide that lists these types of programs throughout the country with information regarding how school counselors can indicate their interest in joining. We anticipate that the guide will be available to Rural SIG members soon.
While our guides are comprehensive, they are not exhaustive, and we encourage students and counselors to reach out to colleges that are not listed in the guides and ask if similar opportunities are available at those institutions. Even if fly-in opportunities are not available, admission representatives may be able to point to additional resources (such as Skype meetings, webinars, virtual tours, etc.) that can help students and counselors learn more about each institution’s campus environment.
"What we have learned through partnering with this population of counselors is that they and their students face a unique set of barriers that often inhibit their access to information about higher education opportunities."
Counselors, of course, play an enormous and critical role in helping students get to the next stage of their educational journey. How can we better support the rural counseling community?
Simply put, we as a profession need to engage with and support our colleagues from rural and small town spaces. What we have learned through partnering with this population of counselors is that they and their students face a unique set of barriers that often inhibit their access to information about higher education opportunities. We have also learned that many of these counselors feel left behind in regard to outreach from colleges and universities compared to their urban and suburban colleagues. Reaching out and intentionally engaging with these school counselors is paramount to ensuring that they have the adequate resources to support their students in the college search and application process.
For colleges and universities, identifying rural and small town schools in your recruitment territories then encouraging enrollment officers to reach out – through high school visits, email, phone calls, invitations to local and campus programming – is the first step in supporting rural and small town counselors. For other high school counselors, we encourage you to use your resources and networks to uplift your colleagues from rural and small town spaces. For instance, inviting them to your own professional programming, sharing their contact information with colleges that are visiting your school, and opening up your evening college-based programs to their students are a few steps to consider.
Additionally, we encourage anyone interested in supporting rural students – whether you work for a rural / small town high school, a college or university, a community-based organization, or anyone engaged with helping rural and small town students – to join the Rural SIG. You do not have to be a member of NACAC or your regional affiliate to join, and you can register for free to keep the conversation going.
Contact any of the Rural SIG Co-Leaders to learn more about how to engage with this important work:
Peggy Jenkins, Founding Director, Palouse Pathways (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Dustin Lynn, Director of College Counseling, Battle Ground Academy (email@example.com)
Andrew Moe, Director of Admissions, Swarthmore College (firstname.lastname@example.org)