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Alec Rhodes

Research Findings

Geographic disparities in student debt by rural, suburban, and urban background

September 9, 2021

American youth from rural backgrounds are making the most of the college-for-all era. Despite long-standing inequalities in access, rates of both college enrollment and completion have risen faster in recent years for rural youth than for youth from suburban and urban areas.   

These successes both reflect and reinforce contemporary challenges facing rural America. Rising enrollments stem in part from structural shifts in the economy that have reduced the number of decent-paying jobs available to less-educated rural workers. And rural sociologists have documented the family and community costs of college-going, highlighting tensions between the desire to stay close to home and the hope of future economic security.

Yet it is also important to consider how rural youth are financing these college gains, especially given the high costs of college, rising student debt, and longstanding spatial inequalities in the resources students have to pay for college.

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