Equity and Access

College Board's Expanding Commitment to Rural Students

This morning, more than 15 million students walked into public schools located in small towns and rural areas across America.

This morning, more than 15 million students* walked into public schools located in small towns and rural areas across America. These students have historically had less access to and participated in the SAT Suite, Advanced Placement courses, and other College Board programs at lower rates than their urban and suburban peers. We heard from many of our members two years ago after the publication of this piece in the New York Times by Laura Pappano that cites just 29% of 18-24 year-olds in rural areas enrolled in college.

As the College Board embarked on a redesign of the SAT and began work to create new resources and processes for Advanced Placement, we also realized that neither an SAT better-aligned to what students learn in school nor stronger supports for AP will help rural students if they continue to experience lower rates of access to both the SAT and AP. To begin closing those gaps, we embarked on several initiatives to better clear a path for students in small towns and rural areas—students that represent 30% of all enrolled public-school students across the country today.

Since 2016, the College Board has partnered with Code.org, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and state departments of education to spread AP Computer Science Principles statewide with a focus on access for girls, students of color, and rural students. This work began in Kentucky and Nevada and later spread to Arizona, Maryland, and Massachusetts. The College Board has also partnered with Instruction Partners to support a cohort of rural Tennessee districts that plan to launch AP Computer Science Principles in fall 2019. In North Carolina, Public Impact and the North Carolina School of Science and Math have partnered with the College Board to pilot a remote delivery model for advanced coursework for students and professional development for teachers. 

College Board has also partnered, beginning in 2017, with the National Rural Education Association, 15 California high schools, and 15 Maine high schools to launch Official SAT Practice Rural Challenges — a way to spread awareness of the tool and encourage productive practice by rewarding districts that have the most students linking their College Board and Khan Academy accounts and completing the most practice problems and practice hours. The partnerships also allow more students to improve their score, practice skills they’ll need in college and career, and see themselves as college ready. The leader of a California Rural Challenge award winning district, Supt. Phil Alfano, Ed.D. of Patterson Joint Unified, captures the spirit of the Challenge when he wrote the following in the Modesto Bee:

“We see college admissions exams such as the SAT as a critical tool – not a barrier – for our students, parents and teachers, as well as college admissions officers. Teachers and counselors in Patterson Joint Unified are provided with SAT data, which can be used to inform them how best to support students in reaching their academic goals. When our students take the SAT, they can be connected to college application fee waivers, Khan Academy’s official free, personalized test practice and extensive scholarship opportunities. The way to ensure authentic equity in college admissions is to give all students the support and tools they need to pursue their college and career ambitions.”

Over the last twelve months, College Board staff presented to audiences at NACAC’s 2018 conference in Salt Lake City, the 2018 Rural College Access and Success Summit in Lexington, Kentucky, College Board’s Forum 2018, and with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to showcase how the assessments, tools, and committed members of the College Board community continue to clear a wider path for small towns, rural areas, and their students and educators.

In 2019, the College Board begins three new partnerships to more deeply engage rural policymakers, stakeholders, and school leaders to increase supports to rural students, both in high school and as they make the transition to college and the workforce. Each of these partnerships, described below, furthers the College Board’s commitment to students in small towns and rural areas in three ways:

  • Tell the story of practice. Many rural students, parents, and teachers don’t know about free Official SAT Practice from Khan Academy. They also may not have heard about the research base that shows practice leads to better SAT scores. As we know from the stories of thousands of students, this means significantly improved chances for admission to colleges and access to broader scholarship opportunities. Through Official SAT Practice from Khan Academy, students in small towns and rural areas anywhere in the country—from Appalachia to the western slope of the Rockies in Colorado, from Down Easters in Maine to remote tribal schools in New Mexico—can practice on the same platform, access the same opportunities, and experiences the same level of rigor as any other student in the country.
  • Make Advanced Placement (AP) more accessible and relevant. For far too long, students and educators in small towns and rural America haven’t been sure that Advanced Placement and its promise of rigorous, college-level coursework was applicable to them. We’re working to change that, both through outreach to rural communities and by a concerted effort to align AP coursework with the workforce needs of tomorrow. For example, College Board and Advance CTE partnered to show how AP courses can be integrated into CTE programs of study—with AP Computer Science courses being one of the strongest examples. AP and CTE courses can and do work in tandem to support career readiness by encouraging the development of academic knowledge and technical skills that are increasingly important to students’ overall employability.
  • Connect rural students to college opportunities. The College Board has an extensive set of equity-focused tools to connect rural students to colleges, such as the College Board Opportunity Scholarship program and Student Search. These tools clear a path for students in small towns to own their college search and application process. The College Board’s recently launched Landscape™, previously called the Environmental Context Dashboard, is a new resource that provides colleges with the consistent high school and neighborhood information they need.

The College Board and three leading organizations focused on students educated in small towns and rural areas will collaborate to further this work: the Rural School and Community Trust, the National Rural Education Association, and Partners for Education at Berea College. Each of these organizations plays a critical role in bringing attention and support to the nation’s more than 15 million students in small town and rural areas. 

The Rural School and Community Trust (RSCT), the nation’s leading nonprofit rural education advocacy and policy organization, publishes the biennial Why Rural Matters 50-state report on rural education. The College Board will sponsor Why Rural Matters and partner with RSCT on research briefs and the report’s “college readiness gauge.” The report has been published since 1999 and is regarded nationally as the premier work analyzing the state of rural education in America. The report focuses attention on the need for policymakers to address rural education issues at the local, state, and federal levels.

The National Rural Education Association (NREA) is the voice of all rural schools and rural communities across the United States and has been the premier advocate for these communities since 1907. This year, the College Board will serve on the committee that selects the National Rural Teacher of the Year, will sponsor and present the award this fall, and will partner with NREA to publicize the work of the national and state-level awardees.

Partners for Education at Berea College hosts the annual Rural College Access and Success Summit, which brings together teachers, school administrators, non-profit leaders, and other stakeholders to share ideas and strategies for ensuring rural youth have the opportunity to successfully transition from high school to college and career. The College Board will sponsor the Summit, share information on the College Board’s Environmental Context Dashboard, highlight unique challenges rural students face, and share its recent efforts to increase access and opportunity for these students.

Our work thus far to expand access and educational opportunity in rural areas and with these three organizations has connected the College Board to rural students and educators in new ways and has strengthened our organization’s commitment to those we serve.

Have comments, questions, or additional examples of how students in small towns and rural areas claim opportunities through programs offered by the College Board? Email Jeff Carlson, Senior Director of Rural Initiatives at [email protected].

*U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey", 2016-17 v.1a; "Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey Geographic Data (EDGE)", 2016-17 v.1a.