ERIC Identifier: ED345931
Publication Date: 1992-01-00
Author: Haas, Toni
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural
Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
What Can I Become: Educational Aspirations of Students in Rural
America. ERIC Digest.
Aspirations are strong desires to reach something high or great. Young
people's aspirations guide what students learn in school, how they prepare for
adult life, and what they eventually do (Walberg, 1989). This Digest reports on
educational aspirations of rural youth compared with students living elsewhere,
and suggests ways communities can work together to raise the sights of their
Aspirations reflect individuals'
ideas of their "possible selves," what they would like to become, what they
might become, and what they do not wish to become (Markus & Nurius, 1986).
Realizing aspirations requires the investment of time, energy, and
resources--both from the young person and from others (Sherwood, 1989). The
extent to which communities mobilize such support bears on the quality of
life--both among students and among adults. A similar observation applies to
realizing career or employment aspirations. In short, conditions in the
community interact with the imaginations of students as they realize their
WHAT ARE CURRENT ASPIRATIONS?
During the last two decades,
several studies have reported changing goals and aspirations of American youth
* 50 percent of America's teenagers intend to go to college, a quarter intend
to work and to attend college part-time, and about 10 percent intend to work
full-time after graduation;
* 81 percent think it is very important to be successful in work;
* 76 percent think having strong friendships is very important;
* 68 percent think it is very important to provide children with
* 23 percent think it is important to have lots of money.
In an analysis of data gathered in the longitudinal survey, High School and
Beyond (HSB), Cobb, McIntire, and Pratt (1989) reported that, in comparison to
urban young people, rural young people felt their parents were much more
supportive of their taking full-time jobs, attending trade schools, or entering
the military rather than attending college. These lower educational aspirations
accompanied lower values for making a lot of money, and higher values for simply
making good incomes, having secure jobs, and maintaining friendships.
ASPIRATIONS, SCHOOLING OUTCOMES, AND POVERTY
circumstances make rural students vulnerable to poor schooling outcomes and
lower educational aspirations. First, the relationship between socioeconomic
status and educational outcomes has been clearly documented in the educational
and psychological literature. The influence of this relationship outweighs the
influence of school location (rural, suburban, or urban) or school size (Marion,
Mirochnik, McCaul, & McIntire, 1991; Center for Research and Evaluation,
1991). Wherever they live or go to school, students who come from low-income
circumstances have lower educational aspirations than do their more economically
Second, the poverty rate is higher in rural America than it is elsewhere.
Further, rural families with two people working are falling into poverty at a
very high rate (O'Hare, 1988). The combination of rising tuition rates and
falling family incomes may make attending college an unrealistic choice for many
A third circumstance that influences the aspirations of rural students is the
education level of parents. Here, too, rural students suffer an early
disadvantage. Seniors attending schools in metropolitan areas are 1.5 times more
likely to have a parent with at least a bachelor's degree than non-metropolitan
students (Pollard & O'Hare, 1990). This circumstance is unlikely to change,
since the students who stay in rural America to become parents and raise
families differ from those rural young people who leave. As a group, those who
stay have the lowest educational aspirations of America's young people, and they
tend to earn less than those who leave (Cobb, McIntire, & Pratt, 1990).
Higher education, and the higher earning potential it represents, may be the
magnet that draws many young people out of rural areas. But the lack of quality
jobs keeps them away. In the past 25 years, managerial and technical jobs
requiring college degrees have shifted increasingly to urban locations
LOW ASPIRATIONS AND DROPPING OUT OF SCHOOL
The desire to go
to college represents only one type of aspiration. Another is the value students
place simply on finishing high school.
In an analysis of the High School and Beyond data, McCaul (1989) found that
rural dropouts, like dropouts from urban and suburban schools, generally made
lower grades and scored lower on achievement tests than their peers who
graduated. Rural dropouts also showed signs of low self-esteem and lacked a
sense of control over their own lives compared with peers who stayed in school.
Like their suburban and urban counterparts, rural youth reported that poor
grades and the feeling that "school was not for me" were the main reasons they
left school early.
Reasons rural students cited more frequently than their urban and suburban
counterparts were economic (someone offered me a job) and personal (pregnancy,
marriage, disability, illness, or an inability to get along with teachers).
McCaul also found that a higher proportion of rural minority students dropped
out than rural white students, especially among Hispanics. Almost half of rural
dropouts were from the bottom quartile of socioeconomic status.
A quarter of the country's students
attend rural schools. If we are not going to squander the resource represented
by this significant group of young people, the schools, the community, and the
nation must work together to raise aspirations. A few examples of what can be
* Low grades and low achievement can lead to a sense that "school isn't for
me." Elementary schools need to provide all students with the tools necessary
for success. These include a firm grounding in basic content, in learning to
learn, and in higher-order thinking strategies.
* Secondary schools need more relevant curricula so that students answer for
themselves the question, "Why do I have to know this?" The secondary school
curriculum should stress the kinds of skills adults need, for example, working
cooperatively and problem-solving.
* Schools also should organize to address the social and emotional needs of
students. Matching small groups of students with a caring adult can provide
students the coaching they need to jump all the hurdles that lie between them
and high school graduation.
* Parents can raise their own expectations for their children's academic
achievement. They should insist that teachers and students raise their
expectations as well. Parents can also express their support for the value of
education and help the schools celebrate successes.
* The community can signal its commitment to education by providing
scholarships, recognizing academic as well as athletic prowess, helping to
improve local schools, creating apprenticeship and work/study opportunities, and
developing venture capital for young entrepreneurs.
* School board members can revise the mission of the district so that the
school's goal is not only to prepare students to leave, but also to empower them
to stay in rural areas.
* Employers can refuse full-time employment to people of school age and
support part-time employees in their efforts to finish school.
* Communities, counties, states, and Congress can create economic and
technological development policies that encourage diversification of the rural
If manipulating symbols instead of objects makes knowledge central to the
economy of the future, then young people living in the country need practice
manipulating symbols. They also need access to databases, experience working
together to solve problems, and jobs to use those skills locally.
Center for Research and Evaluation. (1991). The
social values and behaviors of rural high school students. Orono, ME: University
Cobb, R. A., McIntire, W. G., & Pratt, P. A. (1989). Vocational and
educational aspirations of high school students: A problem for rural America. In
R. Quaglia (Ed.), Research in Rural Education, 6(2), 11-23.
McCaul, E. J. (1989). Rural public school dropouts: Findings from High School
and Beyond. Research in Rural Education, 6(1), 19-24.
McGranahan, D. A. (1988). Rural workers at a disadvantage in job
opportunities. Rural Development Perspectives, 4, 7-12.
Marion, S., Mirochnik, D., McCaul, E., & McIntire, W. (1991). The
educational and work experiences of rural youth: A contextual and regional
analysis. Orono, ME: Center for Research and Evaluation, University of Maine.
Markus, H., & Nurius, P. (1986). Possible selves. American Psychologist,
O'Hare, W. P. (1988). The rise of poverty in rural America. Washington, DC:
Population Reference Bureau, 15. (ED 302 350)
Pollard, K. M., & O'Hare, W. P. (1990). Beyond high school: The
experience of rural and urban youth in the 1980's. Staff working paper.
Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau. (ED 326 363)
Sherwood, R. A. (1989). A conceptual framework for the study of aspirations.
In R. Quaglia (Ed.), Research in Rural Education, 6(2), 61-66.
Walberg, H. J. (1989). Student aspirations: National and international
perspectives. In R. Quaglia (Ed.), Research in Rural Education, 6(2), 1-9.