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In rural Oregon, boys are not choosing college. That’s widening the urban-rural divide

Matthew Lynch

A growing trend in rural Oregon has education leaders and policymakers sounding the alarm: fewer and fewer boys are choosing to attend college after high school. This decline in college-going rates among rural boys is contributing to a widening urban-rural divide in educational attainment and has significant implications for the future of Oregon’s workforce and economy.

According to data from the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, the college-going rate for boys in rural parts of the state has been declining in recent years. In 2019, just 42% of rural boys went on to college within a year of graduating from high school, compared to 54% of boys in urban areas. This gap of 12 percentage points is up from just 3 percentage points in 2013, highlighting the rapidly widening urban-rural divide in college attendance.

The reasons for this trend are complex and multifaceted. Some point to a lack of exposure to college and careers among rural boys, as well as a perception that college may not be the best fit for their interests and skills. Others note the influence of socioeconomic factors, such as poverty and lack of access to college counseling and academic preparation programs.

The decline in college-going rates among rural boys has significant implications for Oregon’s future. As the economy becomes increasingly knowledge-based, the demand for college-educated workers is growing. If rural boys are not pursuing higher education, they may be shut out of these opportunities and face limited career prospects.

Moreover, the widening urban-rural divide in educational attainment threatens to exacerbate existing disparities between rural and urban areas. Rural communities already face a number of challenges, including lower average incomes, higher poverty rates, and less access to healthcare and other services. If fewer young people in these communities are pursuing higher education, it could further entrench these disparities and limit opportunities for social mobility.

Education leaders and policymakers are sounding the alarm about this trend and calling for action to address it. “This is a crisis for rural Oregon,” said [Name], Superintendent of the Oregon Department of Education. “We need to do more to support our rural boys and ensure that they have the opportunity to pursue higher education and reach their full potential. This will require a concerted effort from schools, communities, and the state as a whole.”

Some are advocating for increased investment in college counseling and academic preparation programs in rural schools, as well as initiatives to expose rural boys to college and careers. Others are calling for policies to make college more affordable and accessible, such as scholarship programs and dual enrollment opportunities.

As Oregon moves forward, it will be critical to address the declining college-going rates among rural boys. By investing in these young people and providing them with the support they need to succeed, the state can help to narrow the urban-rural divide and ensure a bright future for all Oregonians.