Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type





Educational Policy Studies and Eval

First Advisor

Dr. Alan DeYoung


This dissertation focuses on how rural community college students make decisions regarding their post-secondary plans. To understand these decision processes, I interviewed students, faculty and administrators at Southeast Community and Technical College in Harlan County, Kentucky. The literature informing my research reflects on rural college going patterns. Most studies connect place and post-secondary plans. Central Appalachia has among the lowest population percentages with Bachelor degrees in the country. Studies argue this is because of limited application for such degrees in the region. Matching their education and training to local job market requirements, people hesitate to complete advanced degrees when little if any local application requires such additional education.

This study discusses how place informs and shapes students’ decisions around college and degree selection. Unlike those who connect advanced education with outmigration patterns, my research highlights students who pursue post-secondary training in hopes of applying these degrees locally to build their communities and families’ quality of life in a rural place. From the twenty-eight student and fifteen faculty and administrator interviews conducted, rationales regarding the purpose of post-secondary degrees and training surfaced. Through selected follow up oral histories, students further described the application of their degrees towards terminal, transfer and/or transformative ends. Their articulated positions regarding the purpose and application of higher education in Central Appalachia adds to the continuing studies on how advanced degrees informs students’ decisions to stay or leave rural areas.

From the Southeast interview data, I provide a critique of policy directives related to advanced education and economic development. Given many of the urban assumptions embedded in development theory, my study was interested in how these rural students, in a place considered underdeveloped partly because of low college attendance rates, attain and then apply their degrees and the rationale they articulate in doing so. As US policy makers continue to require advanced education for more and more of their citizens, my research shows the complications and complexities such rhetoric evokes when people, committed to rural places and ways of life, apply them in their local contexts.



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