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Rural-Urban gap in Post-secondary education access Research Paper

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Updated: May 16th, 2019


Post-secondary education is great investment for a nation’s future; thus, governments should strive to ensure that more citizens access this education. Primarily, post-secondary education is very significant component for economic, social, and cultural development; it also gives a country a competitive edge.

However, access to post-secondary education has been a long-standing issue in many countries. It was found that significantly higher proportions of all high school graduates who enter post-secondary institutions come from large, as compared with small, schools and from urban than rural areas. In Canada, ‘the proportion of 25- to 54-year-olds who have some post-secondary education is slightly higher than 60% in urban areas and just under 50% in rural areas’ (Canadian Council of learning, 2006).

Problem Background

Generally, many students desired to attain post-secondary education; however, there are some hindrances. Education researchers have identified varying factors that prompt the inaccessibility of post-secondary education; socioeconomic status and lack of motivation.

Therefore, the government has attempted to put in place, strategies to encourage citizens to attain tertiary education. We find that, overall, post-secondary education participation rates generally rose over this period. However, the number of people attaining post-secondary education from rural areas is generally lower that those from urban areas.

There are two types of access to tertiary education, type I and type II, where type I is considered on ‘how many’ people are accessing PSE while type II is concerned with ‘who’ the composition of the group accessing post-secondary education. Past educational researchers have dealt primarily on type I access and relative less research on type II. Therefore, there is general agreement that there is increase in the number of people accessing PSE in many societies. Due to less research based on type II, there is no clarity in rural-urban PSE access gap.


Previous studies on barriers of accessing post-secondary education have mainly focused on socio-economic status and educational level of parents. Thus, the objective of this qualitative research study will focus to establish why rural students have difficulties in accessing tertiary education.

Also addressed in the research study are reasons why so many “rural students, including many with the academic ability to go further, fail to include further schooling as part of their plans” (Green & Seton Hall University, 2006, p.51). It also identifies factors that help urban students to access post-secondary education. Moreover, the research will explore measure that various organizations are taking in order to address the disparity.

Additionally, factors that cause students from rural areas to drop-out from tertiary institutions will be addressed. Moreover, the ease of completion of post-secondary education after interruption will also be explored.

Thesis statement: people residing in rural areas have more difficulties accessing post-secondary education compared to their counterparts in urban setting.

Literature review

Education researchers have identified common barriers inhibiting attainment of post-secondary education such as: exclusion on the basis of ethnicity; gender; or socio-economic status (SES). However, researchers have not explored the disparity of accessibility of post secondary education between students from urban and rural regimes of schools.

Thus it has led to developed of this research in order to identify factors that contribute to this disparity. Austin (2002) notes that in many nations, there is disparity in access of higher post-secondary education by location; people residing in rural areas have more difficulties accessing post-secondary education compared to their counterparts in urban setting.

This disparity is of concern since most people reside in rural or suburban areas. The effects of location are evident, since post-secondary enrolment rate in urban areas is nearly double to seven times the enrolment rates of students from rural areas depending on the consumption quartile.

It has been observed that a numbers of high school graduates do not enroll in tertiary institutions immediately after completion of high school despite having good grades.

Consequently, large percent of students continue post-secondary education as young adults. However, the chances of attaining post-secondary education after two years from gradating from high school decline significantly especially for rural dwellers (Tierney & Hagedorn, 2002, p.38). Besides, despite alleged promise from colleges and universities that they recruit students from all parts of the nation, they are less likely to enroll talented students from rural background compared to ones from urban areas.

The location disparity is fueled by several factors; firstly, rural areas have less developed secondary systems than urban areas hence they do not provide adequate preparations for post-secondary education. Generally, students residing in rural areas are less academically prepared and score lower grade in standardized tests compared to urban students (Kirst-Ashman, 2010, p.326).

Thus, students in rural areas lack quality secondary education; hence, they are fail university entrance exams. Most secondary schools in rural areas are small and lack adequate resources to carter for needs of all students. These small rural schools do not offer motivation or develop aspiration for attaining tertiary education. According to CCL (2006), rural schools have a problem of high turnover rate of teachers; and they have no ability to attract new teachers.

Secondly, absence of post-secondary institutions in rural areas limits access of tertiary education to students in rural areas. Proximity and reliable public transportation systems in urban areas is a major factor which contribute to higher involvement in post-secondary education in urban areas (Tierney & Hagedorn, 2002, p.38).

Additionally, most tertiary institutions recruit large number of their students from their respective localities; since these institutions are located in urban areas, students in urban areas have easier access. Thus, students from rural areas, most of them have low incomes have to meet additional costs of transportation or live away from home. Furthermore most post-secondary education institutions are located in urban areas, which add financial pressure on students (Green & Seton Hall University, 2006).

Generally, education researchers have recognized that proximity of tertiary institution affects enrollment and attainment of PSE. Moreover, studies have indicated that increase of capacity of tertiary institutions will increase both types I and II access of PSE. Indeed, recent research into the impact of a new university on the local population concludes that having a degree-granting institution nearby increases university attendance among youth.

Thirdly, in rural settings, most job opportunities do not require university or college qualification hence post secondary education is not highly valued in rural areas (Yoder & North Carolina State University, 2007).

Research has indicated that in communities where a proportion of the workforce requires degree or diploma qualification, there is considerable higher reading competence among fifteen year olds (CCL, 2006). Moreover, higher percentage of people in rural areas is on lower socio-economic status thus they cannot afford the cost of tertiary education.

Factors such as inadequate learning facilities and resources in rural secondary schools disadvantage students from attaining college entry requirements. Moreover, rural students lack adequate understanding of college requirements and lack students’ aspiration support.

Consequently, the government should establish policies to ensure standardized education in both urban and rural schools. Green & Seton Hall University (2006) recommend reexamination of university entry requirements and establishment of flexible requirements for students from rural areas.

Socialization of students both in rural and urban areas influences their choices in attaining tertiary education. In deed there is a positive correlation between cultural communities and access to higher education; thus tertiary education needs to be demystified, and illustrate that attainment of higher education do not mean loss of community values.

Moreover, people in rural areas have less accessibility of knowledge regarding PSE compared to people in urban areas. However, researchers cited that there is no positive correlation between possessing information and accessing post-secondary education. Additionally some community based characteristics namely availability of role models, motivation, and culture are cited to influence decisions of attaining post-secondary education.

To promote equity in access of tertiary education, the federal government has instituted that all tertiary institution should formulate a statement of intent on equity. This statement outlines strategies of addressing equitable distribution of resources, giving priority to disadvantaged groups and measuring and monitoring objectives (Green & Seton Hall University, 2006, p.51).

The research study will explore the geographic area, proximity of post-secondary institutions and urban city in order to understand how location affects accessibility of tertiary education. Further, the research study will seek to find whether location disparities in access of post-secondary education are linked to other external factors like race and socio-economic status inequalities. The study also explores whether, culture in the geographic location or type of socialization in different areas is a contributor to desire of attaining PSE.

Purpose of study

The purpose of this research study is to analyze the disparity in access of post-secondary education between students in rural areas and those in urban setting. The following research questions will be used as a guide to understand if there is actual disparity of access of post-secondary education between rural and urban dwellers.

Research questions

  1. What factors cause inaccessibility of post-secondary education in rural areas?
  2. Do tertiary institutions deliberately recruit their students from urban areas only?
  3. Are there programs or strategies geared to promoting post-secondary education in rural areas? And is access of financial support influenced by geographic locations?
  4. What is distribution ratio of public or private tertiary institutions in rural and urban areas?
  5. What leads to incompletion of post-secondary education among students from rural areas? And how easy it is to re-continue with PSE after an interruption?
  6. How does the rural or urban socialization impact students’ choice of attaining post-secondary education? Is access gap fuelled largely by other external factors other than geographic locations?

Limitations of the study

The findings of this qualitative study might not give an accurate representation of the whole population since the research was based on a small sample. Moreover, the sample did not comprise of representation of wide variety of rural and urban areas therefore, the finding will be subjective. The questioners and interviews used to gather information from the target sample may not reflect accurate information. The researcher cannot verify accuracy of information collected as it depends on honesty of the respondents.

Accessing of information from tertiary institutions is difficult. Additionally the level urbanicity of some regions is debatable. Moreover, understanding the number of rural students participating in PSE many not generally create accurate picture of access. The research primarily looked on type II access; hence limiting the findings since type I and type II access are not mutually exclusive.

The research did not consider the gender of participant, eliminating this variable can skew the finding since gender is a strong factor contributing to accessibility of post-secondary education. Some community characteristics namely availability of role models, and type of employment are variables which are not easily comparable.

Significance of study

The findings of this paper will present a fundamental challenge to previous research finding on barriers of access of tertiary education. The interviews with students and potential PSE students from rural will give insight of the challenges they face and their needs.

Thus, the information gathered can be used by policy makers when addressing. The research is not based on any past research on the issue to ensure objectivity is maintained. The information gathered from this study can be useful to tertiary institutions in determining strategies of promoting equity recruitment.

Definition of terms

  1. The term access, as used in this research study, mainly refers to participation in any tertiary institutions.
  2. The classification of geographical areas in terms of urban, rural, semi-urban is according to the urbanicity rate. Population density is the main feature used to determine urbanicity of a location.
  3. Post secondary education (PSE) – this refers to the next level of schooling directly coming after the end of secondary education.
  4. Tertiary institution- these are the institutions that provide post-secondary education they include but not limited to colleges, universities, polytechnics and institutes of technology that award academic degrees or professional certificates.


Austin, A. (2002). Higher education in the developing world: changing contexts and institutional responses. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Canadian Council of Learning. (2006). The rural-urban gap in education. Web.

Green, T. C. & Seton Hall University. (2006). Comparative policy analysis of trends in higher education aspirations, access and attainment among low-socioeconomic students using longitudinal data sets. Michigan: ProQuest.

Kirst-Ashman, K. (2010). Human Behavior in the Macro Social Environment: An Empowerment Approach to Understanding Communities, Organizations, and Groups. Belton: Cengage Publishing.

Tierney, W. G. & Hagedorn, S. L. (2002). Increasing access to college: extending possibilities for all students. NY: SUNY Press.

Yoder, M. & North Carolina State University. (2007). Rural students’ access to and success in higher education: A case study. Michigan: ProQuest.

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