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Sixteen U.S. colleges and universities have teamed up in a new effort to help students from rural and small communities attain an undergraduate degree.

The Small Town and Rural Students (STARS) College Network aims to build new pathways to college for students who might not otherwise recognize all their options. Only 59 percent of students from rural schools attend college immediately after high school, compared to 62 percent of those from urban schools and 67 percent of those from the suburbs, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse.

The colleges and universities that comprise the STARS network are committed to helping rural and small-town students find the institutions that best suit them, introducing them to the campuses, guiding them through the application process and providing mentors and support once they enroll.

The participating institutions are: Brown University, the California Institute of Technology, Case Western Reserve University, Colby College, Columbia University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, Ohio State University, the University of Chicago, the University of Iowa, the University of Maryland, the University of Southern California, the University of Wisconsin, Vanderbilt University, Washington University in St. Louis and Yale University.

STARS is funded by a $20 million gift from Trott Family Philanthropies, the foundation of Byron and Tina Trott. Byron Trott was inspired by his own journey from small-town Missouri to the University of Chicago, where he earned undergraduate and M.B.A. degrees and eventually became chairman and co-CEO of the merchant bank BDT & MSD Partners.

“There is a massive talent pool in our small towns and rural communities that has so much to offer—to our colleges, to society and to future generations,” Trott said. “These smaller communities simply don’t have the resources to help show these students what is possible and help them get there.”