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Study: Appalachia gaining ground in college access

Appalachian Ohio is gaining ground in educational attainment, but much work remains to be done, according to a new study by the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at Ohio University.

The Voinovich School, with assistance from Ohio University’s Center for Higher Education, has completed a two-year research effort examining postsecondary education access and completion for students from Appalachian Ohio.

This study, which updates and expands upon the 1992 Appalachian Access and Success study that served as the catalyst for creation of the Ohio Appalachian Center for Higher Education (OACHE), was motivated by the need to compile more comprehensive and current data that organizations can use to help Appalachian Ohio students gain access to, and attain, some form of postsecondary education.

Researchers conducted surveys of Appalachian high-school seniors, parents, guidance counselors, and non-traditional students, as well as analyzing numerous secondary data sources, to examine the college and career aspirations, preparation, and decisions of Appalachian students, as well as the barriers they face related to college access and success.

The research replicates portions of the 1992 study, updates the original data, and collects additional, primary information on degree completion and entry into the workforce.

The new Access and Success—Appalachian Ohio study found an increase in the college-going rate of recent graduates since the 1992 study; the estimated 51-percent college-going rate of Appalachian Ohioans in 2006 is up considerably from the 1992 estimate of between 31 and 43 percent. However, since Appalachian Ohio has a population with lower educational attainment than Ohio as a whole, increased progress is needed for this region to achieve parity with the rest of the state.

Researchers also found that participation in a program that helps high-school students prepare for college increases the likelihood that students will plan to attend college right after graduation. Significantly, it also narrows the gap between first-generation college students and students with a parent who has attended college. In most areas Appalachian Ohio continues to lag behind the non-Appalachian areas of the state, but in some key indicators the region is on par with the rest of the state. According to data from the Ohio Board of Regents, persistence to a baccalaureate degree is lower for Appalachian Ohio students than for their non- Appalachian counterparts. However, persistence to an associate’s degree is often equal or slightly higher for Appalachian Ohio students.. However, note that factors other than Appalachian status may be responsible for higher persistence to an associate’s degree.

Based on the survey responses and secondary data sources analyzed in this report, it appears that Appalachian Ohio students are increasingly seeking degrees in some fields that support the state’s current and emerging growth sectors, especially in medical, allied health, and other STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers.

The Access and Success—Appalachian Ohio study was conducted in partnership with the OACHE, , the Ohio Board of Regents, the Ohio Department of Education’s Ohio College Tech Prep Program, and the Ohio College Access Network. The findings of the study have been released in a series of five reports, which are available for download on both the OACHE website (www.oache.org/downloads) and the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs website (www.voinovichschool.ohio.edu).