07/04/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Top Rural Students Reject Elite Colleges

A groundbreaking study has shed light on the college choice practices rural American students, revealing that they are 2.5 times less likely to enroll at a U.S. News-ranked school -- even if their grades, socioeconomic status and financial aid awards hold to a competitive average.

The Chronicle of Higher Education fleshes out the study, which was conducted by University of Michigan doctoral students Matthew A. Holsapple and Julie Posselt:

In trying to tease out why qualified rural students are so much less likely to enroll in such institutions, the researchers note that the factors influencing rural students' enrollment patterns are significantly different than those influencing the enrollment patterns of students from urban or suburban environments. For example, the positive correlation between having a high grade-point average and enrolling in a top-ranked college was much stronger for rural students and those from other communities, while socioeconomic status appeared to play much less of a role in the enrollment of rural students in highly ranked colleges than it did in the enrollments for students from the suburbs and cities. And only among rural students were men more likely than women with comparable qualifications and backgrounds to enroll in highly ranked institutions.

Another significant facet in rural students' college choice was consideration of future study, and how equipped they would be to get into a good graduate school based on their undergraduate education.

Holsapple and Posselt also discovered that rural students from non-traditional families were just as likely as students from traditional rural families to enroll in college. In non-rural situations, students from non-traditional families are far less likely to obtain undergraduate degrees.