Comparison of Education Advancement Opportunities for Low-Income Rural vs. Urban High School Student

Comparison of Education Advancement Opportunities for Low-Income Rural vs. Urban High School Students Deborah A. MariniNational University HUB650 Behavioral ResearchProfessor Randy HeinrichApril 5, 2022led to continue their education is equal at 56% of high school graduates continuing on to college. (National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 2018). According to the United States Census Bureau, the definition of rural is anything not considered part of a metro or urban area with an urban core of 50,000 people or more residing in a dense area. Within the urban and rural settings are a subset of low income and high-income educational systems. While it is known that educational opportunities for advancement are quite available to the higher income sector of the population, what needs to be examined is the opportunity for educational advancement to lower income students within the rural and urban setting and how they both compare. Which low-income population has a greater opportunity for breaking the pattern of low earning potential? Does a high school graduate have a better opportunity for advancement by living in a low-income rural setting, or a low-income urban setting and why? Research Proposition By approaching the research from a constructivist worldview, or more specifically the social constructivist view, it is important to first understand the discrepancy that exists between low-income and high-income educational advancement opportunities. The independent variable for the purpose of my research question will be focused on the low-income level population within a geographic location (rural vs. urban) where the dependent variable will be the statistics that show advancement to college within each low-income area. By acknowledging the existence of a lack of equal advancement, it then proves to widen the gap for those even more challenged by their geographic orientation. According to, in the year 2018 (pre-covid year), there were 15.9 million students enrolled in public high schools in the US. Of those 15.9 million high school students, 31.82% attended high school in rural settings and 28.86% attended in urban settings. (HS Benchmarks Report, 2018). Of these students, 40% of those attending high school in an urban setting are low income as compared to 26% of high school students being low income in a rural area. (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2018). By eliminating race, ethnic background and gender, I will create a subset based solely on the relationship between geographic location and college advancement. My approach will involve a mixed method of data collection and analysis, focused mostly on quantitative results of existing research and qualitative grounded theories with respect to income discrepancies and availability for advancement. Rationale for Quantitative Methods Quantitative research questions, as stated by Creswell and Creswell (2018), “inquire about the relationships among variables that the investigator seeks to know”. (p.136).  To examine the statistical evidence available showing the rate of enrollment for post secondary education in rural and urban settings, then draw a comparison as to how many students enrolled complete their college education, we can begin to look for patterns and challenges to explain the differences between rural and urban educational advancement. The geographic location will be presented as the independent variable and the effect of geographic location upon educational advancement the dependent variable. Rationale for Qualitative Research By using the qualitative method, through the use of peer-reviewed research, I can explore the reasons behind the disparities in educational advancement and understand more clearly the challenges each geographic location presents when comparing the statistics. What gets in the way of their college enrollment and why?Rationale for Mixed Methods Approach When examining the educational system, the numbers are readily available as to attendance, drop off rate and continuation on to an advanced degree. These numbers are absolutely vital in examining where the disconnect lies between low-income urban and rural education. Combining this data with a look into the family life, social constructs, external influences, will allow me to draw a clearer picture of the differences that exist and provide possible solutions based on those differences. Statement of the ProblemAs a society, we have an obligation to make sure we are providing equal opportunities for all students that wish to pursue greater life advancement and create a better opportunity for themselves. Clearly the statistics have shown that the affordability of College can greatly affect the outcome of one’s dream for a better future. By comparing and contrasting which low income population is more at risk of not receiving the proper education advancement opportunities, we can then identify where the focus should be more concentrated and what can be done to correct the injustice. As I have driven across our country several times and lived in both rural and urban settings, the need for proper access to education can exist whether through in-person or virtual opportunities in the more rural settings. Research Questions The primary focus of my research will be to answer the question of: “Which geographic orientation of low-income population provides more opportunities for educational advancement, rural or urban living?” The fact that a lack of advancement for educational opportunities exists within the low-income population has been researched and proven within the educational system simply by looking at the statistics showing the difference in numbers of those advancing on to a secondary education. As seen in the 2019 High School Benchmark Study conducted by the NSC Research Center, it states “Students from higher-income high schools were 25 percent more likely to enroll in college immediately after high school than those from low-income schools (69 percent and 55 percent, respectively). The gap still persisted when looking at college enrollments within two years of high school graduation”. By taking my research a step further I hope to answer the question as to how much one’s geographic location contributes to an already challenged population with regard to educational opportunities. Literature ReviewQuantitative Statistics of Low-Income Rural and Urban HS Students The literature review will be based on both statistical information found in the National Center for Educational Statistics and other resources such as the USDA Economic Research Service (2020) as well as data provided for percentage of those students that go on to post secondary education after completing their public school education. Examining the longitudinal advancement and progression of public high school students each year within a 5 year time span (US Department of Education 2013-2018) will allow a benchmark comparison of progression of students enrolled in high school in both rural and urban settings and their educational advancement. By presenting percentages of students attending public schools and the percentage of those considered low-income and compare and contrast the two, it will support the fact that a problem exists in the first place between low-income educational opportunities in the urban and rural setting. The research design approach will consist of existing data utilized as a meta analysis to compare and contrast the two low-income geographic locations and then test through a multiple regression to answer the research question. Quantitative Statistics of Employment Advancement OpportunitiesOpportunity for career advancement and employment opportunities can directly affect decisions to attend college. For that reason, I will also include the statistical information from the US Department of Labor for 2013-2018 for job opportunity and employment advancement in urban and rural settings to show a possible correlation to the lack of post secondary enrollment within each geographic location. Qualitative Peer Reviewed StudiesI will also utilize literature regarding the various emotional factors that can show possible reasons for not continuing onto an advanced degree. For example, as stated in two separate articles, one in UKessays (2021) and another (Wang, J., 2021) focused on the disparity between urban and rural education, both show technology as being a challenge to those in a rural setting.  By utilizing the HS Benchmarks Report from 2018 regarding studies in both rural and urban settings it will demonstrate the connection between low-income rural and urban percentages of college attendance and high-income rural and urban percentages, proving the disparity among both.  The additional resource showing the connection will be the United States Census Bureau for 2018. I have chosen the year 2018 due to Covid numbers not being truly indicative of school attendance.  To demonstrate the social construct and lend a more personal perspective, there are several peer-reviewed articles focused on the plight of urban and rural low-income students. Mariann Villa (Journal of Rural Sciences, 2021) examines the rural-urban migration and how that will affect the educational system as the transition takes place. It is important to note that mobility for upward advancement can create a cross-reference of populations. In order to provide possible solutions to the inequities, as mentioned before, Jingxian Wang et al. (Computers in Human Behavior, 2019) provide a look at how virtual education and access to computers can create an equality reaching across rural areas. By researching qualitative data delving deeper into the personal situations of those students that live in urban and rural low-income areas, I can also draw a comparison to social challenges faced that may prevent them from continuing on to college. As William P. Evan et al. (1999) show in their report, gang involvement is on the rise in rural communities. For the purpose of my research research about gang influence on the rise can contribute to possible explanations for the reduction in those pursuing a degree in rural communities.  With regard to the family structure, there are several factors to be considered in order to perform an accurate comparison to rural and urban life. One is the income level. According to the United States Census, poverty levels are higher and the medium income lower in rural counties than those in urban areas. (2018) The lack of financial opportunity can contribute greatly to educational advancement as well as familial emotional support. Working longer hours to fill in the financial gaps means less time for nurturing a child that may want to continue on to college.  The importance of this research for examining both rural and urban opportunities is necessary due to the large amount of low-income population that exists in both areas. A perfect example of this is stated my Megan Lavalley in her 2018 examination of the lack of attention to rural education. “Rural students and the schools they attend receive little attention in either policy or academia. This is despite the fact that more than 46 million Americans live in nonmetropolitan areas—a population roughly equivalent to the entire country of Spain”Synthesis A report written in March of 2016 at the John’s Hopkins School of Education states this “A college education has become an important gateway to the middle class, defined as the middle four deciles of income.” The importance of financial opportunity begins with educational opportunities, no matter what economic situation we arrive from. The study proves how challenging obtaining a higher education is for low-income students. They state in their statistics that “the gap between poor and rich students’ college graduation rates is larger than the gap between their college enrollment rates (Dynarski, 2015), showing that not only is college attendance somewhat unattainable to some, but the ability to stay to complete graduation continues to be a challenge. My research question is focused on determining which low-income population receives a greater opportunity for educational advancement, rural or urban, therefore providing a greater opportunity for achieving a higher income earning potential. By pinpointing any inequalities I find, the areas in need of attention will be more easily discovered and targeted for improvement to create a generation that is better prepared to reach the American Dream. Method Overview of DesignFollowing the philosophy of the postpositivist worldview (Creswell and Creswell, 2018), my research will focus on the scientific approach to data collection and analysis.  With statistical and quantitative data, results are gathered, crossed referenced and a narrative is created on the connectivity and separateness of the results. For this reason, I have chosen a mixed methods case study design approach and using the survey design within the quantitative approach. The case study design intent is to “generate cases based on both quantitative and qualitative results and their integration.” (Creswell and Creswell, 2018, p. 230) and where “ both types of data are gathered concurrently in a convergent core design and the results are merged together to examine a case and/or multiple cases”(Creswell and Creswell, 2018, p.230). The statistical data will be used to compare the differences that exist between the educational system in rural and urban settings. Along with peer reviewed research available no earlier than 2012, which will provide insight as to why any discrepancies exist. For example, why is the enrollment rate higher for post secondary education in an urban setting and what types of resources exist in each? ProcedureThe research will be of a descriptive and relational design focused on establishing a reliable prediction based on existing data, surveys and statistics that will answer the research question as to which geographic area provides the most opportunity for educational advancement. Data will be collected from several areas. The US Census will give a baseline as to how many low-income high school students exist as a whole. The US Department of Education will provide the statistics needed to draw a comparison between urban and rural students that go on to attend college and how many graduate. The US Labor Department data will be used to show the opportunity for advancement after graduation- a factor that, from a qualitative assessment, may contribute to a low attendance and graduation rate in a specific geographic area. By pulling in peer-reviewed articles that focus on rural issues and urban issues separately, I can cross reference the data to report the percentage of similarities in each and differences that may contribute to a lack of opportunity for advancement. For the purpose of this research proposal and the time constraints involved, I will not be focusing on the qualitative components such as family issues surrounding lack of enrollment such as lack of affordability, resources or parental involvement, or social and ethnic influences such as gang influence, race or religion. However, I will utilize peer reviewed research to further explain the general issues and social constructs that contribute to the lack of enrollment and college completion that exists within the two geographic areas of urban and rural and draw a comparison between the two to answer the question as to where the greater benefit is available. The data gathered will be based on longitudinal studies of students enrolled in rural and urban high schools and their completion rate as well as enrollment rate in post secondary education (US Census and US Department of Education) and will also be focused on what designates low-income, what are the statistics of low income high school students in rural and urban settings, what the rate of enrollment in post secondary education is in each geographic location, what the graduation rates are for each geographic location, and utilizing peer reviewed articles to evaluate and include any extenuating life circumstances and challenges each area presents. Designating Low-Income Status  US Census data will be used to establish a baseline for the group we will work with in research. The income data and classification status as low-income will be used as our baseline population involved in the study. Low income is defined as “A low-income person is someone whose total annual income is 50% or less of the AMI or average income for the community where they live. That means if the AMI is $60,000, you need to make less $30,000 a year to be considered low-income.” (CRA Newswire, 2018). Defining Rural and UrbanThe next step will be to divide the population down even further into what constitutes rural and urban settings (US Census, Rural and Urban Settings, 2021) and collect data related to the population statistics of low-income families in the urban and rural areas (US Census). Post-Secondary Educational Advancement/Graduation RatesBy cross referencing the statistics from the US Department of Education on post-secondary education advancement in low-income rural and urban areas, the peer reviewed articles focused on the inequality of educational advancement opportunities will be used to not only connect the differences but also to highlight the similarities in struggles between urban and rural high school students. Including the percentage of those students from both rural and urban settings that attend college and comparing it to those that graduate from college will include a statistical look at the probability of going on to pursue greater employment advancement within rural and urban settings Employment Opportunities for Rural and Urban Locations Obtaining statistics for career and job opportunities for both rural and urban settings through the US Department of Labor Statistics will allow a possible explanation for the reason for s disparity (if there is one) between college enrollment. By utilizing peer reviewed data on the challenges faced for both urban and rural high school students, and the opportunities that await them upon graduation, it will provide a look into the lack of motivation for continuing on to a post secondary education after graduation. To answer the question of which geographic location provides more opportunity for educational advancement, we must also look at what awaits one after attending college. Why would a student invest in furthering their education if the opportunity to utilize it is not present? This could be used to answer the research question as to which area shows a higher college enrollment. Qualitative Peer Reviewed Research To properly evaluate and determine which geographic area would be more favorable to live in with regard to post secondary educational advancement opportunities, peer research not dating more than 10 years from today will bring in the inequalities of educational structure within the urban and rural settings. The Systematic Literature Review, the Education Research Review (Silva-Laya, Marisol, et al., 2020) highlight the limitations of educational advancement facing the urban population and demonstrate the educational inequalities of low-income versus high-income families, whereas, a research study by Nace Community (Crain, A., 2018) highlights the importance of examining why rural college enrollees are showing only 29% rural versus 48% of those enrolled in college being from and urban setting. ResultsData Recording By utilizing the mixed methods approach to gathering the data, they will be cross-referenced according to Creswell and Creswell’s (2018) uses for mixed methods research.  “One data base could help explain the other data base, and one data base could explore different types of questions than the other base” (p.14). The convergent mixed methods will provide the opportunity to first examine the quantitative data for establishing parameters around what constitutes low income, then breaks it down into categories of rural and urban low income and finally, rural and urban low income high school students.  By utilizing a multiple linear regression focused on low-income college enrollment between 2013-2018, I can establish the validity of consistency in the data with regard to college enrollment with urban and rural high school students. The low-income designation will remain constant for both urban and rural geographic locations. Due to the low-income status being constant, there will be only one variable, that of geographic location being urban or rural to examine the rate of post secondary educational advancement and the advancement statistics showing which has the larger amount of public high school students continuing onto college. With y =low-income and x1 acting as rural public high school students enrolled in college and x2 as urban public high school students enrolled in college, the research question will provide the general prediction as to which area provides better opportunities. Tools Primary data obtained through statistical data, polls and college enrollment statistics based on income and geographic location. Secondary data will be obtained through government reports such as US Census, Department of Education and US Department of Labor statistics focused on post secondary educational advancement for rural and urban low-income high school students, and employment opportunities available in the rural and urban settings. Population The population of focus will be of two parts. (1)= Low-Income Rural Public High School Students Continuing Onto Post Secondary Education and (2)= Low-Income Urban Public High School Students Continuing Onto Post Secondary Education. Data Analysis  The data analysis will be an exploratory sequential mixed methods design that focuses on two phases of data collection. One will be the quantitative data regarding the number of low-income rural and urban high school students continuing on to college with the combination of the quantitative data regarding employment opportunities available within each geographic are (this data can be used to offer a possible explanation for a decline in or lack of post secondary education enrollment to eliminate bias). The qualitative data collection will focus on social differences between the two areas as well as individual challenges rural and urban students face. The purpose of the analysis is to determine the rate of college enrollment with low income students then compare that to rural and urban enrollment percentages. The interval/ratio will be to examine the population of both low income rural students with low income urban students then show the percentage that go onto post secondary education. To test the research question, the statistical method will use a difference of two means (being rural and urban) and complete a regression analysis of college enrollment between 2013-2018 based on US Department of Education statistics. With the common factor being low-income status (x) and the population being either (1) Rural or (2) Urban, the percentages of those continuing their education within the years 2013-2018 are recorded and graphed. According to Joseph Durlak’s description of a meta-analysis, the use of existing data will be used to clearly answer the research question posed and the qualitative data will be used as an annex to explain possible discrepancies of opportunity for each geographic setting such as social influences, gang influence or lack of resources and technology.  Reliability, Validity and Bias Checks Due to the use of statistical data being obtained through government agencies such as US Department of Census, US Department of Education and US Department of Labor Statistics, the reliability of the quantitative data is high. To ensure reliability and validity of the qualitative data, only peer reviewed scholarly articles dating no more than 10 years from the year 2022 will be used. Subjective bias will be avoided through the use of scholarly articles, research experiments and theses that have been peer reviewed. DiscussionThe awareness of the inequalities in the availability of educational resources is no secret and there are countless studies to prove it. “Research over the last 50 years have been remarkably consistent when it comes to addressing education inequality: background factors like family and socioeconomics matter to school success. Yet policies remain narrowly focused on school-based reforms like testing, standards, and charter schools due in large part to America’s limited understanding of education and inequality” (Eng, N., 2016) It goes beyond just the classroom. Staff shortages, retention and a lack of qualified teachers all contribute to the challenges faced within the educational system.  But beyond that is the disparity not only between high-income and low-income students, but where these students live, whether it be urban or rural. To target which area is in need of additional resources could help to realize where assistance and resources are needed the most. Looking beyond what happens in the classroom lends us a look into where to begin. Expected ResultsThe expected results will stand to generate awareness to the challenges that low-income high school students face as well as the additional challenges faced by simply being raised in a geographical area. Some of the research has shown the lack of availability of technical resources such as Internet, in rural settings. This could impact greatly the ability to prepare a college application, attend on-line classes and communicate effectively with their high school staff should they have an issue. The disparity between educational opportunities available between the high-income and low-income populations are somewhat obvious and easily recognized whether in a rural or urban setting. However, what are often overlooked, are the additional challenges that may come from living where one lives. To pinpoint which geographic location is lacking in resources or technological services can allow there to be an area of focus to assist in narrowing that gap of inequality. Limitations of The Study There are several limitations to the study that sit more in the qualitative realm. Mere observation of the statistics that reflect college enrollment, do not tell the whole story. For example, challenges in a rural setting could be a lack of transportation available to continue on to post secondary education, a lack of access to the Internet due to remote locations, a lack of employment opportunity available upon graduation. All of these can prove to be reasons behind a lack of enrollment that are not documented in statistics. In a rural setting, some of these challenges not reported in the data could also be transportation, a need for employment income or a competitive admissions policy due to population density if exploring an urban college. Implications of Findings In order to better address the lack of college enrollment with low-income students, it is imperative to be given a glimpse as to where to begin. It is this researchers hope, that by providing a research analysis of the possible disconnects to be further examined outside of the classroom, we can draw a focus as to where to support funding, donate resources and help to raise the college enrollment for low-income families where it is needs the most. Change only happens when we become aware of it. Through this research, loopholes that are keeping our high school students from achieving their goal of a higher education can be identified and better targeted for funding. General Summary and Conclusions There is the saying “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” (Author unknown). As we travel through the countryside and witness it’s vast circumference or walk in cities crowded with people, both leave one wondering whose voice is not being heard? The right to education exists not only to those in elementary and high school, but to those students that wish to break the pattern of poverty or low-income status and go on to achieve a post secondary education. Their voices deserve to be heard. To pinpoint where to start, in the rural or urban setting, can narrow down the scope and break down the need to open the door for more impactful legislation allowing opportunities such as a stable and reliable technology infrastructure in a rural setting.  Prior to starting the research, the conclusion was focused more on the density challenges that come with an urban setting. What was discovered, however, were the magnitude of challenges facing those in a rural setting that are readily available to those in an urban setting, such as proximity of community centers and accessibility to Internet capability. Some rural areas cannot afford to pay for technological services and access to transportation options are scare if not non-existent. To lack opportunity due to the remoteness of location, seems to highlight the definition of educational inequality.  ReferencesBjorklund-Young, A. (2021, December 14). Family income and the college completion gap. 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