“We Don't Know How to Do This”: Rural Parents' Perspectives on and Roles in Enrollment at a Private, Selective Liberal Arts College

Rural Sociology / January 2020

Rural youth trail their non‐rural counterparts in college enrollment and attainment, especially for degrees from selective schools; these gaps further spatial inequality in the United States. Much research has focused on rural parents as impediments to rural college‐going: many rural parents did not attend college, and their educational aspirations for their children are lower than those of urban parents. However, every year, thousands of rural students do head to college, even to selective schools, and little is known about their parents' influence on their enrollment. This qualitative study focuses on rural parents without a bachelors degree, investigating the roles they play in their children's aspirations and enrollment at a private, selective liberal arts college and examining their perspectives on this type of school. The results suggest that parents are an important source of social capital, supporting aspirations and enrollment. They also show that these parents see a liberal arts education as a path to a remunerative and rewarding career, and, in supporting their children's college choice, they value factors—financial aid, proximity, and a welcoming school culture—that mitigate the social, cultural, and moral boundaries separating home from college.