Rural Students More Likely to Enroll in College After Campus Visits: Study

Appalachian State researchers found that middle and high school students who visited college campuses were more likely to eventually enroll in college.
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  • Appalachian State University researchers studied students from the graduating class of 2020 in the GEAR UP program in western North Carolina.
  • Traditional college visits had a particularly positive impact on students' enrollment, particularly in their sophomore and senior years.
  • An educational field trip to a college campus when a student was in 7th grade also had a positive effect.

Rural students who visit a college campus during middle school or high school are more likely to eventually enroll at a postsecondary institution, according to a new study.

Appalachian State researchers M. Corrine Smith, Ross Gosky, and Jui-Teng Li examined the effect of college visits on students in the GEAR UP program at 11 rural school districts in North Carolina. GEAR UP provides localized grants to help prepare students for college, including providing them with opportunities for college visits.

The western North Carolina GEAR UP partnership includes two types of college visits: official campus tours, which the researchers described as "traditional" visits, and educational campus field trips, which take place on college campuses but aren't intended to recruit students. Rather, those field trips are meant to expose students to new experiences and career possibilities.

The researchers focused on GEAR UP students in the graduating class of 2020. They found that both types of visits were associated with higher enrollment in postsecondary institutions, but noted that the effect of educational campus field trips "was not statistically significant" for students who graduated high school in 2020, except for those that occurred when students were in 7th grade.

"Our results showed that both types of visits were associated with higher postsecondary enrollment rates," the researchers wrote. "This indicated that rural students with higher participation in these campus visit services, and especially students who participate in these services earlier in their academic careers, might have a higher possibility of enrolling in college."

Traditional college visits were more closely associated with postsecondary enrollment, according to the researchers. Rural high schools should work with middle schools and colleges to make college visits accessible to students, according to the researchers.

"Students who take Traditional College Visits early may also have ample time to take a larger number of them, but also students who take Traditional College Visits for the first time in their high school career (specifically their senior year) are strongly considering postsecondary education," the study reads.

The researchers noted several limitations in their study: Confounding factors, like students' interest in college and who participates in the trips, could play into the data. Both formal and informal visits outside of the GEAR UP program aren't included in the data, and a control group of students wasn't included in the study due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on postsecondary enrollment.

The study also focuses on enrollment. Data on degree attainment hasn't yet been collected.

"Collectively, we believe that the college decision-making process is multifaceted, but also that exposure to college campuses helps students with important parts of this process, beginning with helping students decide that they want to go to college. This exposure may be more important for students from rural school districts, for whom having sponsored visits may play a bigger role in the decision-making process than students who are from non-rural parts of the country," the study reads.