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NC State University Expands Efforts To Attract Rural Students

Students on a lawn at N.C. State University
Scott Akerman via Flickr

Many studies show that students in rural counties are less likely to go to college, especially four-year or private institutions. Faced with that reality, some university leaders are reconsidering how to attract students from rural communities.

At North Carolina State University, leaders are expanding their current programs that serve and prepare high school students. Earlier this year, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences received a $3 million endowment from a Raleigh couple to help rural students win admission to the university.

“In our college, rural students could be much better represented,” says Richard Linton, the dean of N.C. State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Linton says that SAT and GPA scores for admitted students have risen over the years, making it harder for rural students to compete.

The average 2013 SAT score in the top 10 agricultural counties is more than 75 points lower than the state average. Students from tobacco intensive counties scored 142 points below their Wake County peers and were also approximately 27 percent less likely to even attempt the exam, according to data collected by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Those dim numbers encouraged N.C. State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to create theASPIRE program, an intensive six-week experience that helps prepare students for college entrance exams. The program, which reaches more than 30 counties, has shown dramatic increases in ACT performance.

The College also offers an initiative called STEAM – Student Transfer Enrollment, Advising and Mentoring. It helps high school students who want to start their education at a state community college or another university and transfer to NCSU. Selected students participate in special activities at NCSU that support their academic development. Those who complete the program and meet certain benchmarks are promised entry to the university their sophomore year.

Sam Pardue, director of CALS Academic Programs, says family income and lack of parent involvement are among the many reasons why some students need that extra support.

“The other issue is high school GPA. The average for admitted students this year was over a 4.4, and that’s predicated to students’ access to taking honors and AP Courses. And in some rural schools they don’t have the same degree offerings as, say, in Wake County," he says.

Expanding Opportunities

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences recently received a $3 million endowment from a Raleigh couple, Joseph K. and DebborahKapp Gordon, to expand its reach to rural high school students.

Joseph and Deborah Gordon, both NCSU graduates, say they want to help prepare students meet the seemingly ever-tougher admission standards and give them the support they need to eventually graduate debt free.

Their gift will go toward creating the “Farm to Philanthropy” program, which will help grow the STEAM and ASPIRE initiatives.

“There are so many applicants the competition to get into NC State has increased, and so therefore the common student, the rural student, who doesn’t have the opportunity isn’t as competitive,” said Joseph, a veterinarian who graduated from the NCSU vet school in 1986.

The Gordons, who own a group of animal hospitals, are also creating a scholarship component for students in the ‘Farm to Philanthropy’ program. The idea is that students will pay their own tuition and be reimbursed by community leaders or alumni each semester if they meet certain academic requirements.

“It is my hope that students go through this program and graduate debt free,” says Deborah. “That it will inspire them to pay it forward, rather than have to write a check to a loan or institution to pay it back.”

Applying To NCSU

Will Wollet, a junior from Nash-Rocky Mount, has been part of NCSU’s ASPIRE program. He says he participated in the ACT prep courses to become a more competitive candidate.

“The schools [in Nash-Rocky Mount] aren’t quite as good as they are up here in Raleigh, or whatever,” he says. “Anything you do can help, anything extra you do can help.”

Wollett grew up around his grandfather, who raised cattle and farmed everything from beans and cucumbers to cotton and tobacco.

“I want to study agribusiness, kind of get the business side of [farming], kinda know how to run a company,” he says. “I’ve learned from my dad and other farmers the farming side of it.”

Wollett says he didn’t score as high as he had hoped on his ACT exam, but he intends to take it again before the fall when he’ll apply to N.C. State. 

Reema Khrais joined WUNC in 2013 to cover education in pre-kindergarten through high school. Previously, she won the prestigious Joan B. Kroc Fellowship. For the fellowship, she spent a year at NPR where she reported nationally, produced on Weekends on All Things Considered and edited on the digital desk. She also spent some time at New York Public Radio as an education reporter, covering the overhaul of vocational schools, the contentious closures of city schools and age-old high school rivalries.
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