This study examined the perceptions of leaders of grant-supported projects aimed at increasing the college-going rate of high school students in rural Appalachian counties in Mississippi to determine which factors they felt most influenced the college-going rate, parental participation in school activities, and community participation. Analysis of the leaders' responses to questions related to these items showed that college visits and ACT preparation workshops were perceived as having the greatest impact on increasing the college-going rate at the schools. No one factor was perceived as having the least impact on increasing the college-going rate at the schools. Factors influencing parental and community participation included events and workshops for parents, especially those which involved community members as mentors.
Keywords: College attendance; high school students; family environment; academic aspiration; rural education; parental participation; community participation.
A number of influences have been identified as playing a role in rural students' decisions to attend college. The student's family, including their education levels and their support for the student to attend college, seem to play the strongest role. Student and family financial resources and information about obtaining financial aid also influence a student's decision. In addition, the student's experiences in high school, including curriculum, and the student's perceptions of his or her ability to succeed in college and to benefit from higher education play a role. As a result, a number of public and private programs have been developed to increase the number of rural students choosing to attend college. Strategies have varied, and some of the most beneficial have been shown to include relationships with peers and mentors who encourage the student to attend college, providing the parents and student with information about the requirements for attending college, and providing the parents nnd student with information about and assistance with completing admissions and financial aid forms (The National Center for Education Evaluation, 2009).
Numerous factors influence students' decisions to attend college, but the influence of family is particularly strong. According to the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative (2007), "For traditional-aged students, across ethnic and racial categories and regardless of SES, parents play the strongest role in the college choice and decisionmaking processes" (p. 39). Rural youth are no exception. In a study of youth from a rural Appalachian area of North Carolina, findings indicated that both parent and community education levels impacted the youths' college aspirations. More youth from communities and families with adults who had at least a two-year degree indicated that they had set a goal of getting a college degree (Brown, Copeland, Costello, Erkanli, & Worthman, 2009). Research on high school students from a rural Appalachian area of West Virginia demonstrated a relationship between plans to attend college and (a) having parents and extended family members who had attended college and (b) fathers who were employed in a professional occupation (Chenoweth & Galliher, 2004). In addition, parental support for attending college plays a role in rural students' decisions to attend college. Ali and Saunders (2006) found that rural Appalachian high school students were more likely to expect to attend college if they felt they had parental support.
Having financial resources and information about how to obtain financial assistance also plays a role in students' decisions to attend college. In a study of rural West Virginia high school seniors, students reported various problems related to making decisions about attending college. The most commonly cited problem related to not having financial resources, followed by not having information about college and not having information about financial aid (Chenoweth & Galliher, 2004). …