Michigan schools work to show students in rural communities that college is within reach

Could increasing college enrollment among students from rural communities be as simple as funding a bus trip to visit a college campus? According to admissions officers at Central Michigan University (CMU), it’s an important first step, Bridge Magazine reports.

It’s one of a number of tactics Michigan high schools and colleges are pursuing to counter the myth that college is out of reach for rural students. In places like Sanilac County that have “more college dropouts than graduates, higher education is often viewed with skepticism,” writes Bridge Magazine. Only 13 percent of Sanilac County residents hold a four-year degree.

The skepticism derives in part from the fact that students who drop out of college often return home, while those who graduate usually move away, meaning that children growing up in Sanilac County see few examples of college success. That experience discourages teens from even considering higher education, and those who do attend college often enter intimidated because they have so few college role models at home. Lacking financial and emotional support, they are more likely to drop out and return home, reinforcing the cycle.

Bus trips provide strong ROI for CMU

After hearing from high school counselors in rural areas that they wanted to send their students on campus visits but couldn’t afford the cost, CMU admissions staff decided to subsidize bus trips—and last year 400 of those visiting students enrolled at CMU. “CMU is leading the way on this,” Melissa Anderson, director of the Community Foundation in Sanilac County, told Bridge Magazine. “If I were to challenge other universities on one thing, it would be to make that available to rural areas.”

Marlette High School in Sanilac County, which has a 40 percent college dropout rate, shifted its field trip budget to finance college visits to Delta College and Saginaw Valley State University, as well as CMU, which reimburses the school district for the cost of the trip.

Campus visits aren’t the only tactic schools in Michigan are using to increase college enrollment among rural students. Recognizing that college costs and funding options are complex and confusing, high schools are educating first-generation students on the difference between the sticker price of college and the actual cost of college after financial aid packages are awarded. The University of Michigan, for example, offers four years of free tuition to students from families earning under $65,000 a year, Bridge Magazine reports.

This investment in higher education for lower-income students, including students from rural communities, is also an investment in Michigan’s economic future, given the earning differential between college graduates and non-degree holders. Michigan currently ranks 36th among states nationally in college degree rate, and 34th in average income.

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