When it comes to improving college access, we tend to focus on the obvious barriers (like financial costs) that prevent high school students from achieving postsecondary success. But what do we do when a student’s main barrier to a college education is the culture surrounding them? A recent article from The Atlantic explores what happens when high school students in rural America grow up in an environment that simply doesn’t encourage college as the next step after high school. These students believe that once they finish high school, the next step is to get a job and that’s that.

Rural students score higher than urban students on the National Assessment of Education Progress, and the US Department of Education has reported that they graduate from high school at a higher percentage than the national average. However, the percentage of these students in rural areas who enter college in the coming fall is lower than those in urban or suburban areas.

So here’s the question: how do we change the culture in rural areas to inspire a college-going mentality? One way to do so is by changing the mentality of parents. Many parents in rural areas grew up at a time when they could make a decent living without a college degree through farming and mining. But times are certainly changing. A survey by Pew Research found that a third of rural whites and 40% of rural white men believe that their children will grow up with a lower standard of living than they did. With huge economic changes occurring in the mining and farming industries, the students growing up in these areas need to be attaining a postsecondary degree in order to make a better life for themselves.

Keeping parents well-informed about the college-going process can make all the difference for rural families. In a case study by College OPTIONS, parents of 11th and 12th graders in rural Shasta County, California received informative text messages about upcoming activities and deadlines in the college-going process. The results showed that after receiving these texts, parents felt much more confident about the requirements their children needed to meet in order to enroll in college. With parents shifting their own mentalities when it comes to higher education, behavioral changes in students are sure to follow.

This cultural phenomenon is a barrier to overcome, but information-sharing programs like that of College OPTIONS can make a truly valuable impact on the future of students.

Download The College Options at UC Davis Case Study