Faculty member to study rural students’ college choices

An East Carolina University faculty member who has received a 2018 Andrew Carnegie Fellowship will study how students from rural areas across the United States make decisions about college.

Dr. Crystal Chambers, associate professor of educational leadership in the ECU College of Education and vice chair of the ECU Faculty Senate, is one of 31 fellows selected nationwide by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. She is the only researcher from the UNC system to be awarded the 2018 fellowship.

She will receive a $200,000 stipend to devote up to two years to research and writing. The award “supports high-caliber scholarship and research that applies fresh perspectives from the humanities and social sciences to some of the most pressing issues of our time,” according to the Carnegie program.

Dr. Crystal Chambers is one of 31 people nationwide to receive a 2018 Andrew Carnegie Fellowship.

Dr. Crystal Chambers is one of 31 people nationwide to receive a 2018 Andrew Carnegie Fellowship.

Chambers will investigate the choices rural students make once they leave high school, whether they go to college and where they choose to attend, as well as why others don’t pursue postsecondary education.

Of those who enroll in college, rural students are more likely to stay closer to home and attend community college than their urban and suburban counterparts, Chambers said.

Much of the existing research focuses on students from larger cities, she said.

Dr. Marjorie Campo Ringler, professor and chair of the educational leadership department, said the fellowship “will allow Chambers to complete studies that will inform higher education institutions about the college paths of underrepresented students.”

The research also will enhance the doctoral program curriculum. “I am proud of Dr. Chambers’ accomplishments and this Carnegie Fellowship validates her contributions to the field of higher education administration,” Ringler said.

Chambers hopes to learn more about why rural students are less likely to attend college despite higher high school graduation rates than students from urban areas. The study is important because earning a bachelor’s degree is a way to lift families and communities out of poverty, she said.

Chambers has advocated for, encouraged and supported students in helping them to see college as a possibility for many years.

“This is an ongoing theme in my research,” said Chambers, whose doctoral work focused on college choice and gender differences among African-American students.

With family in rural Virginia, Chambers said she saw patterns early on.

“Basically if you know someone who went to college, you are more likely to go,” she said.

Rural students are primed to be as successful as urban students, they just don’t know it, Chambers said. “Rural students don’t think of themselves as being as smart as others,” she said. “If you don’t see yourself in the narrative, do you go?”

Chambers is already talking with high school counselors about the barriers students face in making college choices. She also will be meeting with high school students. She plans to tap into the College of Education’s Latham Clinical Schools Network, a partnership between ECU and 43 public school systems with more than 600 schools in eastern North Carolina.

“They know ECU and trust ECU, and I want to build on that rapport,” Chambers said. “We want to have real open, honest conversations.”

Chambers will continue mentoring her graduate students while doing research. Christie Harris, a doctoral student from Craven County, will assist on the study.

Chambers will seek additional funding to sustain the research. Ultimately she would like to establish a Center for College and Career Counseling at ECU that would combine service and research. “This is the best place in the United States to do that,” she said.

A colleague in New Jersey nominated Chambers for the Carnegie Fellowship. “It was overwhelming. I’m very excited about the opportunity,” Chambers said.

Dr. Grant Hayes, dean of the College of Education, said Chambers has made important contributions to the college. “Our faculty and staff salute her on this significant achievement,” Hayes said. “This recognition is a tribute to her impactful research, and the award will provide critical support for her valuable work.”