Access to Higher Education for Rural Students in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan

Date of Conferral



Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)




Katherine Garlough


A disparity in access to higher education exists between rural and urban regions of the world. Equal access to higher education for students from rural areas is a priority for government leaders in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. This study addressed the problem of lower-than-expected enrollment of students from rural areas at branches of the International Mountainous University (IMU, pseudonym) located in rural regions of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to investigate the experiences and perceptions of 10 IMU students about gaining access to higher education. Informed by the theory of habitus, the research questions focused on perceptions of (a) the experience of gaining access and (b) sacrifices related to gaining access to higher education. Transcripts of individual, open-ended interviews were analyzed using elemental coding and verified through member checking. Four themes emerged: (a) academic barriers, (b) information and communication barriers, (c) support, and (d) material and nonmaterial sacrifices. Findings led to the development of a white paper recommending that IMU establish partnerships with high schools, develop parent outreach programs, and introduce inclusive admissions practices. Positive social change may result from providing IMU with program and policy recommendations that support the institution's vision of increased access to education for rural residents of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

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