Main Street in Fowler, Colorado, (Carol M. Highsmith, via Creative Commons)

This story was originally published by Chalkbeat. Sign up for their newsletters at

Sisters Shaelea and Ryanna Pruett can rattle off plenty of facts about raising cattle.

The Fowler High School graduates know the ideal build for a bull and how to bottle-raise a calf. The sisters could try to make a living on their family ranch tucked between Manzanola and Fowler on Colorado’s southeastern plains. 

Instead, their father Dane Pruett Jr. stressed college from an early age. He worked hard labor jobs at a cannery, steel mill, and farms throughout his life, but wanted his daughters to find work that would provide them flexibility and financial stability and wouldn’t tax their bodies. 

“He wants a more comfortable life for us,” said Shaelea Pruett, 20, who graduated from Otero College and will attend Colorado State University Pueblo in the fall.

Shaelea Pruett wants to be a large-animal veterinarian, a high-growth field as an older generation retires. Her younger sister, Ryanna Pruett, 18, is studying at Otero College and plans to be an agricultural sciences teacher, preparing the next generation of farmers and ranchers. 

Fewer than half of rural Colorado’s high school graduates go to college, a rate that’s about five percentage points below the state average. 

The reasons are complex. College can feel far away, geographically and culturally. Colleges sometimes haven’t done enough to make degrees feel relevant to the interests and experiences of rural Coloradans. The cost can deter students unsure if college will improve their earnings. College recruiters don’t often stop at rural high schools.


Jason Gonzales, Chalkbeat Colorado

Twitter: @ByJasonGonzales