THE COLLEGE CHOICE PROCESS OF FOUR STUDENTS FROM RURAL APPALACHIAN KENTUCKY
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This study examined the extent to which the college choice process of four students from one high school in rural Appalachian Kentucky aligned with Perna's (2006; 2010) nested process model of college choice. I used qualitative case study methodology and inductive analysis to describe how four high-academic achieving students of varying family income backgrounds in the particular context of one community in rural Appalachian Kentucky decided to enroll in an institution of higher education. In brief, three of the four students enrolled in the closest, most familiar institution after relying on an adult other than their parents for guidance in selecting a college. The remaining student, despite her low socioeconomic status and family income, enrolled in a selective private university in Kentucky after an expanded college search. School practices that supported students' access to higher education are highlighted.
This research adds to the theoretical knowledge in the field of college access and choice, which indicates that different student populations experience the college choice process differently, but has yet to fully include research on rural students. My analysis revealed a number of influential factors for these four students' college choice decisions that were in Perna's (2006; 2010) model, such as guidance counseling, college costs, and financial aid. The analysis also showed the meaning of identified factors for students given the context of their community in rural Appalachian Kentucky. Additional influential factors that were found for these students, such as the role of athletics in increasing demand for higher education, and factors that were not present, such as parental support during the college choice process, added nuance to the model. By learning how and why some students from rural Appalachian Kentucky are able to go to college, we can begin to understand how to increase the low level of educational attainment of individuals in the region.