There is a discrepancy in the numbers that come out of rural schools. They have higher graduation rates than urban schools (80 percent vs. 68 percent), but graduates of rural schools are less likely to go to college or finish their degrees. The numbers suggest that these schools are failing in areas other than academics: their students are not being prepared for the transition to college

Rural schools, which account for 57 percent of school districts and 33 percent of individual schools but only 24 percent of all students, have small populations and smaller budgets. It’s a known problem that they struggle to retain skilled teachers and to offer college preparatory activities like AP classes and sports or other after-school programs. Rural students also have fewer opportunities than their urban counterparts in terms of career exploration activities such as field trips to college fairs or various places of employment.

These schools are also less likely to have another key asset: career counselors.

Rural parents commonly expect and encourage their children to go to college and “leave the farm,” so to speak. However, they are less likely to have done so themselves, so rural students don’t have knowledgeable support at home to assist with college selection, financial aid paperwork, and the application process. Active career counselors are vital to bridging that gap of knowledge and helping students to start on their career paths, whether through college or trade school, serving an apprenticeship in one of the skilled trades, joining the military, or other such activities.

Despite public perception that career counselors are little more than interested volunteers, they have requirements for licensing, fieldwork, experience, and long-term professional training. Many counselors hold master’s degrees and PhDs in child development or related areas. Schools with constrained budgets struggle to support well-trained teachers, let alone “extraneous” experts like these.

In addition, career counselors in rural areas often serve multiple schools, and therefore have a limited physical presence on any campus. They may also take on subsidiary tasks, leaving them less time for career guidance for their students.

While obviously, the solution for this is higher pay for school staff and an increase in the budget of rural schools, it has been made plain that education is no one’s financial priority. An alternative solution is a community partnership, with private sector agents sponsoring counselors in underprivileged schools with the goal of increasing the educated workforce in the community. It would be a long-term investment, but one with a proven payout.

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