Photo of three women: one young woman is sitting at a desk, an older woman with white hair is bent over the desk writing, and the other woman is standing watching them.
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Rural youth trail their non-rural counterparts in college enrollment, further exacerbating spatial inequality in the United States. These rural students often are children of parents who did not attend college and know little about the college application process. A recent study, though, reframes these parents as college assets who support college because of their lack of education and financial struggles, not in spite of them. Said one struggling mother of her son’s college hopes: “I think he saw what a lack of education does for you.”

Mara Casey Tieken interviewed nine rural, first-generation students accepted into a New England private liberal arts college, which accepts less than 20 percent of its applicants. Tieken also interviewed their parents. Both interviews took place during the summer before the children’s first year of college. Tieken’s writing is clear and is a good example of how a small sample can tell an important story. 

Tieken found that rural parents supported a liberal arts education as a path toward a promising career. They accepted that they had a limited role in the application and decision-making process, in part because a liberal arts curriculum was a new concept to many of them. This limited role made their children more reliant on institution officials, such as counselors. The parents also valued factors that helped diminish concerns of their children leaving home, including financial aid, location, and school culture. In addition to reframing the narrative on rural students, this research recognizes that colleges need to ensure adequate administrative and cultural support for their first-generation, rural students.