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Rural Students Face Barriers to Higher Education, Here’s How We Solve It

February 28, 2024
Contact: Emma Bittner
(972) 510-3395 |

Rural Students Face Barriers to Higher Education, Here’s How We Solve It

Young Invincibles Releases White Paper Authored by Young Adults About Rural Student Access to Higher Education

(Denver, CO) –  Today, Young Invincibles released “Rural Students and Access to Higher Education,” a white paper authored by the Fall 2023 Cohort of Rocky Mountain Young Advocates aimed at addressing the barriers rural students face when accessing higher education.

Over 73 percent of Colorado’s land mass is rural, and according to the 2020 Census, 12.5 percent of Colorado’s population resides in rural or “nonmetro” areas. While comprising a relatively small portion of the population, young adults from rural communities across Colorado encounter unique and specific obstacles when attempting to access higher education. Institutions of higher education are often ill-equipped or uneager to provide resources catered to rurally-located Coloradans that would enable their success. This results in lower rates of student enrollment and completion of higher education in rural communities compared to urban areas. Moreover, students of color and first-generation students living in rural communities are even less likely to enroll or complete higher education than their rural white peers.

In addition to identifying barriers specific to the rural population, the white paper outlines seven recommendations that policymakers should implement to address and mitigate these obstacles.

In response, Melanie Kesner, Rocky Mountain Regional Director at Young Invincibles said: 

“Rural students deserve the same access and quality of education as their metropolitan counterparts, yet constantly face roadblocks that hold them back. To best address rural students’ challenges, we must understand the systemic barriers in place and their impacts, as outlined in this paper.

This white paper presents policy recommendations by young people for young people, many of whom intimately understand the barriers rural students face. Young Invincibles is proud to publish a paper authored entirely by young adults. We will continue to dismantle these barriers and ensure every student can thrive, regardless of where they live.”

In response, Katherine Harvey, report author and Young Advocate said: 

“I grew up in rural Colorado and never lived within any town or city limits until I moved away to college when I was 18. I dropped out six months later despite having been valedictorian of my high school graduating class. I wish I had known earlier that rural students face specific logistic and cultural challenges in pursuing postsecondary education. It would have helped to know that I wasn’t alone — that my challenges were part of a broader set of social issues, not just personal problems. 

Writing this report and collecting qualitative data from rural folks across the state helped me articulate how my own experience fits into the policy landscape (or lack thereof) when it comes to young people in rural areas and the educational opportunities we have. Decision makers, educational institutions, funders, and other stakeholders have to start including rural youth and young adults in these discussions if we’re going to make substantive changes to allow educational opportunity for all.”

In response, MJ Guzman, report author and Young Advocate said: 

“As an immigrant who was raised in a big city, when moving to the valley, the contrast was like day and night. Working and living in rural Colorado, the lack of opportunities and resources jump out at me, especially as a former educator. How can I encourage students to aim for their dreams when families struggle to meet basic needs? It’s a different world for us out here, and we need help.

Co-writing this paper opened my eyes to what goes into policymaking and how long it takes to even gain an inch for our voices to be heard. I feel like there is a lack of empathy from our legislators for us here— from schools to our medical resources. I guarantee our communities feel neglected. But silence is no longer an option. Our people deserve better, and it’s going to take us working together to achieve the greatest impact for our communities so that future generations have the same opportunities that our urban peers have. Expanding access is critical to creating a more equitable environment for these areas of the state that have so much to offer.”


Young Invincibles (YI) is a national advocacy and policy nonprofit organization focused on amplifying the voice of young people in the political process at the local, state, and federal levels. YI focuses on issues impacting young adults ages 18 to 34 in higher education, health care, economic security, and civic engagement. Our offices include Washington, D.C., California, Colorado, Illinois, New York, and Texas. For more information, please contact Emma Bittner at (972) 510-3395 or