Proof Points: Rural students shift away from science

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By Jill Barshay

As a city dweller, I’ve been dismayed by reports that an anti-science sentiment is growing in rural America. A study published June 30, 2021 in the journal Educational Researcher caught my attention because it documented how rural students are less likely to major in science and delved into some of the reasons why. There are many studies about the dearth of Black and Latino students who pursue science but rural students, another underrepresented group, are predominantly white. Getting more of them to study science may not only help improve their lives but could also help revitalize economically distressed areas of our country.
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Key Findings 
  • Only 13 percent of rural and small town students major in math and science in college, compared with almost 17 percent of suburban students.
  • The researchers point to three explanations for the rural shift away from science: the lack of advanced classes, highly trained teachers and extracurricular activities.
Teacher Takeaway 
  • Rural math and science teachers didn’t participate in professional development as often or feel as confident in their teaching ability or subject knowledge as suburban math and science teachers.
  • Online instruction of advanced high school courses can prepare students for challenging college programs in math and science. But students often miss out on forming a relationship with a good teacher at their high school who can inspire a student to make the decision to major in engineering in the first place.
Lit Review 
  1. Saw GK, Agger CA. STEM Pathways of Rural and Small-Town Students: Opportunities to Learn, Aspirations, Preparation, and College Enrollment. Educational Researcher. June 2021.
  2. Provasnik, Stephen; KewalRamani, Angelina; Coleman, Mary McLaughlin; Gilbertson, Lauren; Herring, Will; Xie, Qingshu, Status of Education in Rural America. NCES 2007-040, National Center for Education Statistics
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