14 SES 09 A, Aspirations and Success of Young People in Rural and Urban Areas
Access to higher education remains an enduring concern in improving university participation rates of students from rural backgrounds in many parts of the world (MacKillop et al, 2012; Jaegar et al, 2015; Parker et al, 2016). In Australia under-representation among students from rural areas is amplified by both the vast distances involved and the preference of many students to enrol in universities close to home. With the majority of Australian universities located in urban centres, students in rural areas therefore face particular challenges. Indeed, studies of the effects of geography have shown that “distance exerts a unique influence on aspirations” (Parker et al, 2016, p.1173).
Despite recent research focussing on the aspirations of rural school students for higher education (Howley, 2006; Byun, 2012), most studies, internationally, focus on the later years of high school (for example: Irvin et al, 2012; Meece et al, 2013). Recognising the specific challenges of students from rural areas of Australia, the purposes of this paper are to: 1) better understand factors influencing the educational aspirations of these students; 2) examine aspiration formation across the broad age range of 8 – 18 years; and 3) in so doing, inform educational policy and practice in relation to students who reside outside of major urban centres.
This paper compares aspirations for university of students living in rural areas and their peers in urban areas, addressing the degree to which differences are apparent even among primary [elementary] school aged children. In order to understand the influence of both location and age we draw upon Bourdieu’s concepts of social and cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1986) and Appadurai’s theory of the ‘capacity to aspire’ (2004). For Appadurai (2004) the capacity to aspire is a cultural capacity “formed in interaction and in the thick of social life” (p. 67) wherein those from more advantaged backgrounds are afforded with an advanced capacity (Appadurai 2004). Appadurai argues that all people aspire to their version of the ‘good life’, however those from less advantaged backgrounds are more likely to have limited experience in navigating the pathways required to reach their goals. Students in rural areas often have limited access to the cultural and social resources, or capital, required to navigate the complex pathways that lead to the realisation of aspirations for university. We connect the capacity to aspire (Appadurai) with Bourdieu’s concepts of social capital, which we interpret as ‘who you know’, and cultural capital or ‘knowing the ropes’ (Whitty, Hayton & Tang, 2015) and examine how these concepts shape the higher education aspirations of students from rural areas.
This study draws on data from a four-year longitudinal study involving 64 schools (public primary [elementary] schools and their partner high schools), from diverse social, cultural and geographic regions in New South Wales, Australia. Four cohorts of students were tracked as they moved through four years of schooling (commencing when they were in Years 3, 5, 7, or 9). Students were surveyed annually from 2012 to 2015, with surveys administered online by classroom teachers. The primary and secondary student surveys differed slightly, with some questions omitted or modified to account for different levels of maturity. A total of 6,492 students completed the survey in one or more years, resulting in 10,543 total surveys. Focus groups were also conducted in order to gain a deeper understanding of students’ perspectives on their aspirations. Students were purposively sampled in relation to SES, prior achievement and their occupational and educational aspirations (Author, 2015). During the period 2013—15, 187 focus groups were conducted with 553 students. Student discussions focused on: their post-school plans; their occupational interests; who they discussed their future plans with; and their thoughts about university and/or vocational education and training (VET). In order to understand how aspirations vary for students from rural and urban areas, this paper draws on: 1) student survey data; 2) linked demographic data provided by the state education department; and, 3) focus group data gathered from students in urban, inner regional and outer regional areas. Statistical analysis was based on a range of student background and school-related variables. Logistic regression models were used to determine if there were differences among students from urban, inner regional and outer regional areas in terms of their aspirations for higher education. To gain a deeper understanding of the aspirations for higher education of rural students we thematically coded the focus group transcripts. Using inductive and deductive logic (Creswell 2013), a continuous process of reflection and discussion involving an ongoing conversation between coders ensured consistency and group consensus (Harry, Sturges & Klingner 2005) over emerging themes. Identified themes were included in a codebook as a reference point for use by all members of the research team (Guest, MacQueen & Namey 2011).
A high proportion of students in each locality aspired to university although the proportion was highest in urban centres. We found gender to be a significant predictor of university aspirations in rural areas, but not in urban centres. While prior achievement, SES and cultural capital were significant predictors in all regions, the effect was stronger the further students were from cities. Student age was a significant predictor for students in all regions, with those in early secondary school less likely to indicate an interest in university. Social capital was an important factor shaping students’ aspirations for university, particularly in terms of the influence of family members. While proximity to university was found to be important, university equity initiatives helped to increase familiarity with higher education. Although students in regional areas were are less likely to aspire to university, these students are also more likely to be from less advantaged communities (Parker et al, 2016). As such, restricted access to relevant forms of cultural and social capital might better explain their lower aspirations than location itself. Distance appears to amplify general trends rather than provide a causal link. Using Bourdieu’s (1986) concepts of social and cultural capital and Appardurai’s (2004) theory of the ‘capacity to aspire’ enabled us to more fully understand how access to social and cultural resources, in the family or through university outreach, can impact students’ capacity to aspire to university. We argue that university presence in rural areas (both physically and virtually) is critical in supporting students from these areas to aspire to higher education. Targeted outreach programs in schools and communities could provide resources for students and their families, enhancing access to privileged forms of social and cultural capital and, hence, the capacity of students from rural areas to aspire to university.
Appadurai, A. (2004). The capacity to aspire: Culture and the terms of recognition. In V. Rao & M. Walton (Eds.), Culture and public action (pp. 59–84). Stanford: Stanford University Press. Bourdieu P. (1986). The forms of capital. In Richardson J. (Ed.), Handbook of theory and research for the sociology of education (pp. 241–258). New York, NY. Greenwood. Byun, S.-y., Meece, J. L., Irvin, M. J. and Hutchins, B. C. (2012), The role of social capital in educational aspirations of rural youth. Rural Sociology, 77: 355–379. doi:10.1111/j.1549-0831.2012.00086.x Creswell, J. (2013). Qualitative inquiry & research design, SAGE Publications, California. Gore, J., Holmes, K., Smith, M., Southgate, E., Albright, J. (2015) Socio-economic status and the career aspirations of Australian school students: Testing enduring assumptions. The Australian Educational Researcher, 42, 155-177. doi:10.1007/s13384-015-0172-5Guest, G., MacQueen, K., & Namey, E. (2011). Applied thematic analysis, Sage Publications, London. Harry, B., Sturges, K. & Klingner, JK. (2005). ‘Mapping the process: an exemplar of process and challenge in grounded theory analysis’, Educational Researcher, 34, 3-13. Howley, C. W. (2006). Remote possibilities: Rural children's educational aspirations. Peabody Journal of Education, 81(2), 62-80. Irvin, M. J., Byun, S. Y., Meece, J. L., Farmer, T. W., & Hutchins, B. C. (2012). Educational barriers of rural youth: Relation of individual and contextual difference variables. Journal of career assessment, 20(1), 71-87. Jaeger, A. J., Dunstan, S. B., & Dixon, K. G. (2015). College student access: How articulation agreements support rural students. Peabody Journal of Education, 90(5), 615-635. Meece, J. L., Hutchins, B. C., Byun, S. Y., Farmer, T. W., Irvin, M. J., & Weiss, M. (2013). Preparing for adulthood: A recent examination of the alignment of rural youth's future educational and vocational aspirations. Journal of Educational and Developmental Psychology, 3(2), 175. Parker et al (2016). Does living closer to a university increase educational attainment? A longitudinal study of aspirations, university entry, and elite university enrolment of Australian Youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 45(6), 1156-1175
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