A PM I just got made me think of a message I sent the other day to someone in another country, and I thought I'd like to post a slightly edited version of it here, and see a.) what other US'n's views are, and b.) what are the similarities and differences to other countries. I'll be in green; my recipient in blue:

Now I shall get to your questions:
>>>The theme of driving long distances over the countryside on a mission related to childrens' schooling is a recurrent thing - and one which has set me wondering.
> Is this what normal parenting involves in the US?<<<
Oh yes. Though if the distance is really far, whatever the student can't take on the plane gets mailed. I should say, there are colleges and/or universities in, I guess, all U.S. cities of any size, and a lot of students commute to classes from home, for a variety of reasons; chief among them being not having to pay the cost of a dorm room. But there are some kids who just aren't ready to leave home yet, and some who are not sure they want or could get a four-year degree, so they enroll in, say, a two-year program at a community college. But for most, going away to college is "The Big Adventure"--for the first time, they'll be out from under Mommy and Daddy's eyes, and making decisions for themselves. Some look forward to it more than others.
>>>> Are there no closer institutions they could attend?
> Or - do you live in the country?
> At what time of their lives/schooling do children head off on these

I guess I already answered the first of these three. No, Louisville has a population pushing a million, I think.
Kids here usually finish high school at or near the age of 18; they start kindergarten at age 5, then have grades one through twelve before graduating. I'm told that in Great Britain, most kids decide at age 16 to either quit school and go for a trade, or take further courses and tests if they want to go on to university. There's nothing like that here--attitude-wise, I mean. In Kentucky, at least, it is the law that kids have to stay in school until age 16; some do drop out then, but it is very much frowned upon. Students must either have a high school diploma (certifying graduation) or what's called a GED (General Equivalency Diploma, which they earn on their own and is at least supposed to certify that they could have graduated had they stayed in school) to get into a trade school.
This is not a 100% picture, but the majority of people who don't get even their GED are pretty much doomed to careers of being a waitress/maid, or manual labor, etc.