Rural road with yellow two-way arrow.
Enrollment Insights Blog

Rural Student Recruitment and Trends

These results are from an older Niche Enrollment Survey. You can find the most up-to-date results here.

There has been more emphasis in recent years on recruiting and supporting rural students, and rightly so. There is a very active and supportive NACAC Special Interest Group for those who want to take these results further and learn more about serving rural communities. Rural students responded to the survey in ways that give a lot of hope for their success, but there are still lags in college attendance rates.

Differences During the Search and Application Stages

During the search process and while deciding where to apply, rural students responded that they were less likely to place importance on almost every resource. Exceptions were college admissions staff and friends or family members who attend/attended the institution. This could indicate that rural students are more likely to value personal contacts rather than online resources. Below, you can see that when looking at the most positive responses there were essentially no differences.

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Rural students had the same median visits as their suburban and urban counterparts, but applied to a median of two fewer schools. They also were the most likely to report not having a counselor supporting their college search (13.8%) but were also the most likely to report that they had no issues in their college search (16.7%).

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The majority of rural seniors considered a technical or community college, which is in opposition to their peers. They were also, unsurprisingly, more likely to consider small campuses and were less likely to consider urban campuses. 

Differences During the Enrollment Stage

Rural students continued to show their preference for interpersonal relationships in their college search when choosing where to enroll. They were more likely to want to stay close to home, find an institution that is a place they will be happy at, and found outreach from admission offices to be very important. They were less likely to consider the reputation of the college and financial aid packages when making their final enrollment decisions than their suburban and urban peers. They were also the most satisfied with their financial aid packages.

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Rural students were the most likely to report being accepted to their first choice, 86.1% vs 76.6% for their peers. They were the least likely group to take out loans and the least likely to take out loans over $20,000 in their first year of college. In spite of all this, rural students were the least confident in their ability to pay for their education. 

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Using the Results

 In spite of reporting less support from their school they also perceived fewer issues in their college search; this combined with more outreach from admissions counselors at colleges can bring together a stronger relationship and more support for enrolling rural students. While some schools don’t prioritize visiting rural high schools, the student responses seem to point to there being more value in visiting rural high schools. Rural high school students should be more strongly considered by small rural colleges as well as 2-year programs (for which they were the most likely to consider). These are great opportunities to help increase the college attainment levels among rural students. Make sure to support them through graduation as well, providing the counseling they may have missed in high school will help build relationships and a feeling of belonging.

Rural students were the most active on most social networks, but the outliers were LinkedIn and Twitter. If you are actively recruiting rural students you are better off to focus on Facebook and Instagram ads rather than targeting on Twitter as well as for organic content. They value more personal approaches though, so content and ads should be focused on individual stories and human stories throughout rather than on the processes and deadlines as standalone topics.

In spite of being the most confident students in most areas, rural students were not confident about their ability to afford college. Throughout the college search process there should be efforts made to communicate affordability and how to pay for college. With support, their confidence and focused search can also translate into higher yield and more student success.

Prior to coming to Niche in 2019 Will served 9 years at Manchester University in roles as an Admissions Counselor, Associate Director for Admissions Operations, Social Media Coordinator, and ultimately as Digital Strategist. Will surfaces tactical insights from user behavior and surveys to help higher ed build recruitment strategies. In addition to the Enrollment Insights blog, webinars, and podcast; Will is a frequent conference speaker and podcast guest. He has presented at NACAC, AACRAO-SEM, AMA Higher Ed, CASE V, EduWeb, and EMA. Will's work has been featured in Forbes, Inside Higher Ed, CNBC, CNN, the LA Times, and The New York Times among other outlets.