Ideas for fixing ‘brain drain’ of rural young people

By Al Cross

Rural problems tend to take a back seat to urban problems that have higher visibility, but addressing rural needs could help much more than just rural America, Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas report for The Chronicle of Higher Education. The two researchers found that in just over two decades, 700 rural counties lost over 10 percent of their population, much of it educated young people. The brain drain isn’t new, Carr and Kefalas write after nearly two years in rural Iowa, but “the 21st century the shortage of young people has reached a tipping point.”  (Photo by Steve Shapiro)

“The health of the heartland is vital to the country as a whole,” Carr and Kefalas write. “This is the place where most of our food comes from; it can be ground zero for the green economy and sustainable agriculture; it is the place that helps elect our presidents, and it sends more than its fair share of young men and women to fight for this country.” The two sociologists, funded by the MacArthur Foundation‘s Network on Transitions to Adulthood, found adults in the community were facilitating the town’s decline by pushing the best and brightest young people to leave, and by underinvesting in those who chose to stay. 

Schools should push those not headed to four-year institutions toward vocational training and associate-degree programs, Carr and Kefalas suggest, adding schools must build better links to higher education and nurture learning in areas of regional economic growth, like wind energy and biotechnology. The pair also advocates small towns embracing immigration to fuel a dwindling work force, and offering student-loan forgiveness for college students willing to return to the area. Rural states must also invest in the “green economy,” and reinvent the food industry to save rural America, the researches argue.

“The residents of rural America must embrace the fact that to survive, the world they knew and cherished must change,” Carr and Kefalas write. “And, on a national level, rural development must be more closely linked to national economic growth priorities, and policies must be created to help these communities prepare for a future that is already here.” (Read more)

Reprinted with permission from The Rural Blog.  Al Cross, former Courier-Journal political writer, is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and The Rural Blog.

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