Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Adult and Lifelong Learning (EdD)

Degree Level



Rehabilitation, Human Resources and Communication Disorders


Kevin M. Roessger

Committee Member

Michael S. Hevel

Second Committee Member

Michael T. Miller


Barriers to College, Perceptions of College, Rural Education


The purpose of this qualitative case (preregistered) study is to interview rural young Americans, deeply explore how they think about higher education as they prepare for life beyond high school, and analyze how those views and perceptions translate into barriers or motivators to its pursuit. Rural Americans feel less optimistic about their financial futures, find it more difficult to find a job in their communities, and believe their children will have a lower standard of living than their parents when they reach their parents’ age (Morin, 2016). Rural students are more likely to graduate from high school than their urban counterparts but are less likely to attend and graduate from college (USDA, 2017). Prior studies postulate the reasons behind these trends, but few seek to more deeply understand why this occurs from student perspectives. This study’s methodology offers participants the opportunity to share whether they see further education as helpful to their job prospects or career aspirations; their perceived barriers to obtaining that additional education, if so; whether they would choose between remaining in their communities over leaving for school, if that choice had to be made; and how they feel about their job prospects if they remain in their rural communities. Without understanding the perceptions of the emerging rural workforce around further education, it will be challenging to bring to bear any policy or practical change to specifically address their needs. The COVID pandemic has potentially enabled more distance learning and remote career opportunities. Now is the time for community, academic, and corporate joint efforts to tap into motivations of the emerging rural workforce to pursue new skills and knowledge beyond high school and remove perceived barriers to that pursuit; else it will remain difficult to halt or reverse outmigration and brain drain impacts to rural economies.