Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

School Name

Annsley Frazier Thornton School of Education



Major Advisor

Fred Rhodes

Second Advisor

Grant Smith



The pervasiveness of generational poverty in the US and the potential of a postsecondary (college) education to serve as an ameliorator and catalyst for societal change – both in individual, familial and broader community contexts – is established in the literature (Enberg & Wolniak, 2010; Kaufman, 2014; Turley, 2009; Rank, Yoon & Hirschl, 2015). Rank et al. (2003) found that American poverty is structural in nature as it relates to the labor market and related ineffective social policy, resulting in predictable and repetitious cycles of systemic and generational poverty, which is particularly relevant in rural contexts. Tickameyer and Duncan (1990) noted that “rural areas have a disproportionate share of the US poverty population (p. 67). Landon (2009) noted that an overwhelming majority of high-poverty US counties are rural (p. 14). The present study advances structural theory by adding and measuring educational factors; and examining and measuring rural educational, familial and socioeconomic structural factors in Kentucky counties and its secondary schools as potential predictors for college enrollment. Results highlighted a significant interaction effect between poverty and rural location; and further demonstrated the normative relationship between employment rate; poverty line placement; rate of single parent households; quality of secondary school programming and access to AP courses; and the concentric presence of institutions of higher education as structural factors impacting and predicting college enrollment in Kentucky.

Key terms: poverty, rural schools, determinism, mobility, generational poverty, secondary-postsecondary nexus, human capital, geography of opportunity