Country Roads Take Me...?
The purpose of this study was to examine college pathways or college access and success of rural, first-generation students. Most research on college pathways for low- and moderate-income students focuses on those students as a whole or on urban low-socioeconomic status (SES) students. (Caution is in order when generalizing the experiences of low-SES urban students to those of low-SES rural students.) The literature reveals that rural students attend college at lower rates than their urban and suburban counterparts and are likely to have lower college aspirations. Why such differences exist remains highly speculative in the literature. Especially absent is knowledge about how rural culture interacts with rural student behavior. Current research on pathways primarily examines factors used to predict college aspirations, participation, and completion of rural students. This ethnographic case study examined why and how such factors influenced students in a rural, high poverty county in southern West Virginia. The study explored rural cultural values and how rural culture influenced college pathways. All students in the sample had attended high school in the selected county and were enrolled in West Virginia two- and four-year public institutions. This study found that attachment to family significantly influenced students' college-going decisions and behaviors. Students' parents, siblings, and extended family provided support and encouragement necessary for high educational aspirations, college-going, and persistence. Attachment to family made it difficult for students to leave the area. The decision to leave, return or stay was difficult for rural students given the strong attachment to family, place, and community; yet, the lack of economic opportunity in the area affected the decision as well. Cultural legacies, traditions, and norms influenced rural students' college-going and persistence. In addition to family's vital role in the success of rural students their high schools, communities, and peers were also relevant. Given the importance of family in the lives of rural students, local, institutional, state, and federal policies and practices must keep families involved and replicate family support models.