Students in Trump’s forgotten America: Are they learning to leave?

In this historic Library of Congress photo, a miner’s son swipes coal from coal cars for home use in West Virginia.

President-elect Donald Trump promised rural and Rust Belt communities he would bring back jobs by reviving declining industries. “Let me tell you: the miners in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, which was so great to me last week and Ohio and all over, they’re going to start to work again, believe me. You’re going to be proud again to be miners,” he said.

Trump’s appeal to what’s described as America’s forgotten communities raises an interesting question for schools in areas where jobs and hopes have waned: Should students be encouraged to stay and stem the population losses that have decimated rural America or pack their bags for greater opportunities elsewhere? Will their learning result in their leaving?

According to the federal government, population growth rates in nonmetro areas have been significantly lower than in metro areas since the mid-1990s with the gap widening in recent years. While 72 percent of the United States is  considered rural, it is home to only about 15 percent of the nation’s residents.

Rural teachers say family resistance keeps bright kids from applying to colleges out of the area, bypassing four-year universities for local community colleges. A Texas Tech University study found while 70 percent of students in metro areas enroll in more schooling after high school, only 64 percent of rural students do so.

Of those rural students, 47 percent opt for two-year institutions, compared to 38 percent of their urban peers. Why is that important? Because more selective colleges have higher completions rates and their graduates get higher-paying jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found the median annual earnings for those with a bachelor’s degree was $57,252 a year, compared to $41,184 for an associate’s degree.

As a nation, Americans have long uprooted their lives for better prospects. Many displaced coal miners came from families that migrated to the area in the late 1800s and early 1900s in search of jobs in what was then a burgeoning industry. But coal mining collapsed because of cheaper and cleaner energy sources and because fewer workers were needed in the era of strip mining and automation.

Should schools revere a past unlikely to come back — unless taxpayers subsidize it — or point students to a future that may entail forsaking their rural roots?

As the Wall Street Journal reported: “Rural America—which encompasses roughly three-quarters of the nation’s landmass—has seen slower population growth for a decade, as more young people move to urban and suburban areas for jobs and even aging retirees seek out more-populated places to live. Such developments present a mixed bag for the economy as a whole: While ongoing population losses mean mounting challenges for remote rural areas, most economists see the movement of workers to better jobs in more populous areas as a sign of a healthy, efficient economy.”

This discussion transcends borders. A Chinese official set off a debate a few years ago with her comment that rural Chinese students shouldn’t be encouraged to leave farms and seek university educations. Her reason: They won’t be as academically advanced as their urban peers and end up in the cities working at lower-level positions rather than returning home where they could help their families.

In researching the exodus from small town America, I came across a quote from Georgia football legend Herschel Walker: Coming from a small town it was really tough to dream big. When I grew up in a small town in Georgia, my biggest dream was one day to be able to go to Atlanta, Georgia. To be able to go to Atlanta, which was about two hours and 45 minutes from my home. So, to dream about going to Atlanta was it.

 

 

 

 

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9 comments
An American Patriot
An American Patriot

In Decatur, GA. the projected high temperatures for the next three days are......72,77 and 78.  In Detroit, MI, the projected high temperatures for the next three days are.......56,60 and 68.  Where would you rather be?  Where would you rather go to school? Where would you rather work?  What few jobs are available are now in the sunbelt.  Folks, have y'all looked around you and even noticed all of the construction going on everywhere in the metro Atlanta area? Have y'all even looked at all of the apartments, thousands and thousands of them being built in anticipation of people moving into the Atlanta Area?  I hope President Trump is successful in bringing jobs back to the rust belt......if not, those cities will all but dry up.  Go anywhere up in the northeast and see the stark reality......THERE IS NO new construction!!!!!

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

My dissertation focused on the college decision-making process for rural students,using a huge national database.  Holding the usual characteristics statistically steady (parental income, parental education, parental expectations, family type, race, ability, grades, distance to an institution, etc) rural students are still less likely to pursue postsecondary education than their urban and suburban counterparts.  There is something in that box of rural upbringing, likely attitudes alluded to, above, in part, which makes it less likely that rural students will aspire to and actually attend postsecondary schools.  I suspect it is family ties, and even religion, that serve to impede rural students, along with lack of role models and helpful social and cultural capital.

Starik
Starik

Perhaps we could adjust any affirmative action in admissions to class preferences rather than racial preferences.  If a small-town or rural Georgia kid needs some help getting admitted to UGA, help him or her rather than a kid from areas where a good education is available, regardless of their race. Private school black kids can compete with white kids on an equal basis and work their way to the top.  

Astropig
Astropig

IMHO,migration away from rural areas is mainly economic.Decades of crony capitalism have hollowed out many small towns to the point that the jobs available are mostly dead-end with bleak prospects.Retail,service jobs (that are highly dependent on the cyclical economy),and agriculture (becoming dominated by trans-national agribusiness giants) mean that for a lot of young people,their dreams are only obtainable where the capital is concentrated-large conurbations with a diverse,competitive local economy.


This point has been driven home to me over the last few years when I visit the hometown that I grew up in (to sit on the porch with Astromom while she dips snuff).When I was young,(1970's) the factory whistles blew twice a day and lots of middle class families could count on hard work to constantly improve their standard of living.The local paper was two sections.I sold it door to door on the one day a week that it was published (bought a stack from the publisher/owner/editor for a nickel apiece and sold it for a dime).The sky glowed orange at night from the steel furnaces that went into cars and ships.


Now, I really feel like I'm visiting some foreign land.It seems that the only commerce on our old main street is half of the town trying to cheat the other half of the town by making them a payday loan or conning them into pawning their car title.Thrift stores,"antique" shops (junk,in reality) and two kinds of banks-pawn shops and giant mega-banks operate nearly side by side.Changing economics mean that they're the only ones making any money these days.


The movie theatre shut down in the early 90's.(The giant chains have 16 screens.One screen theatres are incapable of making money)The hospital is now defunct and those steel mills have banked their furnaces and been shut down for years.They don't even bother to hire a security guard anymore to watch over their antique,rusty machinery.The only fires are the jibheads making meth in the workshops.


Oh-The one thing that's constant? It's been election season this summer and fall and the same old names that have run things since I was a kid are still promising to make things better-if we'll just re-elect them again.Some have died and their kids are now the candidates.

BurroughstonBroch
BurroughstonBroch

I grew up in a mill town and regulated my day to mill and train whistles. It's still a mill town but has fared better than your hometown, mainly because most of the HS graduates don't leave.

I believe the schools should neither encourage nor discourage students to leave. Educate the students and let them decide for themselves.

Astropig
Astropig

@BurroughstonBroch


A shocking number of working age men are unemployed or on disability in my childhood hometown.The opioid dependency rate is epidemic.Suicides are not unknown.Decades of terrible government policy has destroyed the foundation of what gave them their dignity-a middle class job.

Vera Wynn
Vera Wynn

It's this happening already in rural Ga? I don't see the difference.