Rural routes : first year college experiences of students from rural backgrounds
Stone, Cody Carlisle
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The experiences of college students from rural backgrounds have remained understudied. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to further understand how students from rural backgrounds perceive self, define rurality, describe their first-year social and academic college experiences, and make meaning of these experiences. Eight first-time, full-time freshman from rural communities of less than 2,500 inhabitants were interviewed twice during their freshman year of college. Furthermore, data collection techniques also included photo elicitation, student drawings, a rural representation selected by the students, and subsequent discussions of these items. Participants described rurality and rural culture in the context of small-secluded areas, open space, sense of community, and connections to the land. They described themselves as hardworking - honest, driven - responsible, and family oriented. Emergent themes related to general college experiences and rural effects included opportunities, limited college knowledge, initial shock, size of college, just a number, and balancing act. Social preparedness, friends: knowing everyone to knowing a few to good friends, ease of social integration, and lack of diversity but open emerged as themes related to social college experiences and rural effects. Regarding academic college experiences and rural effects, the following themes surfaced: academic preparedness, shift in faculty - student interactions: teachers to professors, peers and academics, perceptions of academic rigor, shift in study habits to meet academic rigor, and perceptions of academic success. A focal conclusion derived from this research study is that the participants define themselves in terms of their rurality. Regarding college experiences and rural effects, study participants did not know what to expect at college and their rural upbringing helped prepared them for the social aspects of college. Furthermore, they are relying on their drive, strong work ethic, and sense of responsibility to integrate academically and are utilizing their social skills to aid in their academic endeavors. The rural students in this study appear to be on a trajectory towards social and academic integration and in turn persistence. Finally, these college students from rural backgrounds understand their agency. They understand that they play the critical role in their own development.