In other areas of Ohio, having the academic readiness and supports to persist in college is not based on luck. It’s systemic. My home county is one of five in Appalachian Ohio designated as “economically distressed,” meaning that we have significantly higher rates of poverty and unemployment and a lower median family income relative to U.S. averages.

Among the 22 school districts within these five counties, less than half had any level of student participation in AP courses. Of those, most had AP participation rates near or below 10 percent of the student body. This matters because AP course participation and completion with a score of 3 or higher on an AP exam is positively correlated with college persistence.

Similarly, many of these districts also have a low percentage of the student body that is ready for college as measured by the ACT’s “remediation free” cut score.

Taken together, these facts mean that college readiness remains an enormous challenge for Appalachian Ohio, an observation supported by research. In my own experience, also echoed by research, completion of college is associated with many social and economic benefits. Moreover, there are immediate societal impacts.

Opportunity Nation, a campaign by Child Trends and the Forum for Youth Investment, created the Opportunity Index, a measure of economic and educational opportunities for communities across America. A key metric in the index is the percentage of disconnected youth — neither working nor enrolled in school or college — between the ages of 16 and 24.

Many of Ohio’s Appalachian counties have a high proportion of disconnected youth relative to the state average. In some of the most rural counties, the proportion is around 20 percent.

Yet, despite the need to emphasize college readiness, the state of Ohio has taken steps to lessen the rigor of a high school education. This was done under the guise of offering other “pathways” for students whose life goals may not include college education.

Read the full article about helping rural students by David Adams at The Hechinger Report.