Date of Award

May 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Gerald S. Edmonds


Higher Education, Persistence, Rural

Subject Categories



Tinto (1993) argued that all students have different needs and require different resources and services to enable them to persist at the university level. One group of students that requires individualized attention is students from rural areas. During the 2010-2011 academic year, 57% of public school districts in the U.S. were in rural areas (U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, 2013). These rural school districts serve a quarter of the students who attend public schools in the U.S. (Schiess & Rotherham, 2015).

Rural students have lower college enrollment and persistence rates than non-rural students (Aylesworth & Bloom, 1976; Koricich, 2014; U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016). Rural students may be less prepared for college than their non-rural peers, which may lead them to decide not to enroll in college (Schiess & Rotherham, 2015). Additionally, they may possess many of the qualities, such as coming from a family that has a low level of education and belonging to a low socio-economic group, that increase a student’s risk of dropping out of college (Aylesworth & Bloom, 1976).

There is little information available about the experiences of college students from rural areas. This study begins to fill this research gap by exploring the following question, “How do rural students perceive their experiences coming from a rural background and enrolling at a 4-year urban university?”

A phenomenological study was conducted using data from in-depth interviews of rural students enrolled at a 4-year urban university between the fall of 2013 and the fall of 2016. Interview data was coded for common themes. Findings of this study include: 1) Rural students face isolation in their rural communities. This isolation includes both geographic and social isolation; 2) Rural students face many of the same challenges that students from other geographic locations, but these challenges appear to be more severe for students from rural backgrounds; 3) Rural students often struggle to fit into their college environment; and 4) Coming from a rural background can also be an advantage for students when enrolling in college. This report discusses these findings in more detail and suggests how the information gained from this study could help rural students in the future


Open Access

Included in

Education Commons