The University of Massachusetts study, published in the American Journal of Education, shows not just how the gap has changed since the 1990s, but notes the context in which it changed. It notes that "in the late '90s to early 2000s rural areas were facing complicated and contradictory economic and demographic factors, such as the recession," Johnson reports. "Researchers said that not all rural youth have leaving for college on their minds or in their plans, and that rural job markets have shifted over time to become more service-oriented."
At the same time, rural economic growth has brought more jobs to rural areas that require a college degree, which has encouraged more rural students to go to college, Johnson reports. Because rural students tend to have stronger ties to their communities, they could be more likely to come back to their home town to work after college than someone from a city or suburb.