While the entire United States is still reeling in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the recovery process has not been even nationwide. Many rural students and communities — especially certain pockets — are facing multiple crises in terms of educational loss, economic outcomes, unemployment and mental health.

Why Rural Matters 2023the latest in a series of 10 research reports on rural education, shows that roughly 9.5 million students attend public schools in rural areas — more than 1 in 5 nationally. Nearly 1 in 7 of those rural students experience poverty, 1 in 15 lacks health insurance and 1 in 10 has changed residence in the previous 12 months.

Roughly half of all rural students live in just 10 states. Texas has the largest number, followed by North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Virginia and Michigan. Texas has more rural students than the 18 states with the fewest combined.

In 13 states, at least half of public schools are rural: South Dakota, Montana, Vermont, North Dakota, Maine, Alaska, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Wyoming, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Mississippi and Iowa. In 14 other states, at least one-third of all schools are rural.

More key findings from this edition of Why Rural Matters:

  • More access to psychologists and guidance counselors is needed. In non-rural districts, there are an average of 295 students per guidance counselor or psychologist. In rural districts, the ratio increases to 310:1, with seven states (Minnesota, California, Mississippi, Alaska, Louisiana, Indiana and Michigan) having ratios worse than 400:1.
  • More access to gifted and talented programs is needed for Black and Hispanic students in rural districts. Though 17% of students in rural schools identify as Hispanic, they represent only 9% of participants in these schools’ gifted programs. Similarly, 11% of the rural school population identifies as Black, but only 5% of the gifted student population in rural schools is Black. In contrast, 65% of rural students are white, as are 77% of participants in gifted programs.
  • Rural areas appear to offset some of the impact of poverty on educational outcomes. Overall, students experiencing poverty scored 27 points lower than their peers on the grade 8 NAEP math assessment and 22 points lower in reading; in rural schools, these differences were 22 and 18, respectively. Socioeconomic equity in reading appeared to be highest within rural schools in Arizona, Idaho, Texas and Oklahoma, and most concerning in Illinois, Mississippi and Virginia. For math, the most equitable states were Hawaii, Arizona, West Virginia and Oklahoma; the least equitable states were Colorado and Louisiana.
  • Many rural areas continue to lack basic internet access. The pandemic made clear that adequate internet connectivity is essential to equitable education opportunities. However, 13% of rural households lack minimum broadband connection for streaming educational videos or engaging with virtual classrooms. In six states, more than 1 in 6 rural households doesn’t have at least a basic broadband connection: New Mexico (21.4%), Mississippi (20.6%), Alabama (18.9%), West Virginia (17.5%), Arkansas (17.4%) and Louisiana (17.2%).

Read the full article about rural students by Jerry Johnson and Allen Pratt at The 74.