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Starting over on Campus or Sustaining Existing Ties? Social Capital during College Among Rural and Non-Rural College Graduates

Abstract

Rural youth currently graduate from four-year colleges at a similar rate to peers from other locales, even though they are more likely to come from lower SES backgrounds. Scholars attribute their successes to “small town” community social capital; yet the processes through which young people translate social capital into educational attainment remain unspecified. Through analysis of in-depth interviews with disadvantaged rural and non-rural college graduates (n = 43), this study examines how successful students engage social capital to support academic attainment during college. All graduates tended to rely on family social capital for emotional support, high school social capital for academic preparedness, and on-campus peers and mentors for emotional and academic support. Support from community social capital varied, with some rural students severing hometown ties and others keeping them close. Community social capital offered direct benefits for rural students who maintained close ties, and data from this study suggest possible ways that even rural students who severed ties continued to indirectly benefit, such as feeling comfortable seeking out supportive resources and relationships because they are accustomed to being known. Non-rural students, in contrast, benefitted from continued relationships with high school peers on campus, but no other forms of community social capital.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The name of the agency and all respondents have been changed to protect confidentiality.

  2. 2.

    In 2006, NCES adopted an urban-centric system of locale codes based on a school’s proximity to an urbanized area, dividing territory into four major types—city, suburban, town, and rural—each with three subcategories (Common Core of Data 2015). For cities and suburbs, the subcategories are gradations of population size. Towns and rural areas are distinguished by their distance from an urbanized area.

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Acknowledgements

The author would like to gratefully acknowledge Lisa Plimpton for her instrumental role in data collection and design of the research protocol; Kaylee Wolfe and Luisa LaSalle for data processing; Caroline Martinez and Melody Moon for research assistance; and Melody Moon and Craig McEwen for valuable input on early drafts of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ingrid A. Nelson.

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Nelson, I.A. Starting over on Campus or Sustaining Existing Ties? Social Capital during College Among Rural and Non-Rural College Graduates. Qual Sociol 42, 93–116 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11133-018-9399-6

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Keywords

  • Rural schooling
  • Social capital
  • Higher education
  • College life