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Breaking New Ground: Diverse Routes to College in Rural America


McGrath, Daniel J.; Swisher, Raymond R.; Elder, Glen H., Jr.; & Conger, Rand D. (2001). Breaking New Ground: Diverse Routes to College in Rural America. Rural Sociology, 66(2), 244-267.


Rural communities pose a challenge to status attainment models that explain children's educational attainment primarily in terms of the parents' education and professional status. Alongside the rural professional class are farmers of similar social status but with less education and other families that lack the status and resources of both professional‐class and farm families. The prolonged agricultural crisis in the American Midwest has turned rural youths toward college and has raised questions about the educational value of resources provided by farm parents and other rural parents. We classified youths from the Iowa Youth and Families Project into three SES groups: professional‐managerial, farm, and lower‐status. We compared these groups on resource levels and on the extent to which the resources predicted enrollment in a four‐year college one year after high school. Findings indicated three distinct routes to four‐year college. Professional‐managerial youths tended to follow the traditional path from parents' educational and other resources and support to their own academic involvement and aspirations for higher education. Successful farm youths, in lieu of parental educational advantages, drew on parents' community ties. Resourceful lower‐status youths, in the absence of family background advantages, generated educational attainment through early educational ambition and varied community and school involvements. Even relatively low levels of involvement were valuable to these youths' educational attainment.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Rural Sociology


McGrath, Daniel J.
Swisher, Raymond R.
Elder, Glen H., Jr.
Conger, Rand D.