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Exploring the college gaps in rural Colorado

Craig, Colo. Photo by Matt Stensland for Chalkbeat.

This item appeared in Beyond High School, a Chalkbeat newsletter by Jason Gonzales about college-going in Colorado. Sign up for your own copy here.


For March’s Beyond High School newsletter, I want to talk about what I didn’t realize I didn’t know about Colorado.

Over the past month, I set out to explore why rural Coloradans go to college at a lower rate than do the general population. It’s part of our larger exploration of how college outcomes in Colorado are often a tale of two states.

Colorado is highly educated, but who gets to college plays out unevenly among racial, geographic, and economic factors. Research shows rural students have high aspirations to go to college. Many don’t make it onto college campuses.

Through my reporting, I realized I didn’t fully understand what it means to live in rural communities.

As many of you know, I was born in Colorado and lived most of my life in Greeley, a city surrounded by plains and farmland. Whether you head about 30 minutes north, south, or east, you can easily count the number of stoplights you pass. And indeed the joke about the “Greeley smell” refers to cow manure, and yes, I barely can smell it.

So I thought I knew rural areas. I would visit friends whose families farmed or at least owned cattle or horses. I would see photos of students riding their John Deeres to school.

But one person’s rural experience doesn’t define others’.

Living in the southern San Luis Valley doesn’t mirror life in the northern mountain towns or on the plains. The differences play into why Colorado college-preparation and college-going patterns vary.

Factors include how close you might be to a city or town, or whether you’re tourism or farm dependent. In some places, a technical, two-year or four-year college degree might not be useful. College might mean students leave and never come back. Or a college degree could further economic opportunities in remote parts of the state.

With each interview, I am learning about why college is important for students and their communities. Thank you for letting me share a bit of what I’ve learned so far.

And as always, I want to hear your thoughts. Why is college important for rural students and their communities? What can be done to help students fulfill their college dreams in rural areas? Why does this matter for greater Colorado?

You can reach me on Twitter at @ByJasonGonzales or via email at jgonzales@chalkbeat.org.

Jason Gonzales covers higher education for Chalkbeat Colorado, in partnership with Open Campus.

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