Why are college graduates more inclined to move away from their rural hometowns?
An FKD Feature exclusive

Rural college students have been migrating to cities at exceptionally high rates, prompting a severe drop in rural education levels.

What’s happening?

Desolate rural areas were thrust into the spotlight during the 2016 election, putting their issues in the forefront of urban America. Education, or a lack thereof, is a big part of their problem.

In recent years, rural areas have been seeing a significant net loss in younger, college-educated residents. In simple terms, this means that most educated and skilled workers are flocking to cities, leaving struggling rural areas in the dust.

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article that focused on Iowa, illuminating how students who go to urban state universities often don’t return home. The New York Times has also studied this in the past. The Dakotas, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska and Ohio have all seen a decline in educated people who return to rural areas.

Though 72 percent of U.S. land is considered rural, these areas are home to a mere 14 percent of the nation’s population, educating only 18 percent of U.S. public school students.

Because of this lack in population and education, sparsely populated regions have been routinely sending more students out to urban colleges than they get back.

This has led to an uneven distribution of educated graduates, perpetuating the educational divide between urban and rural areas.

Why there are less college graduates in rural areas

A big factor pushing this urban shift is that well-being in rural areas has drastically declined over the last few decades. Rural towns lack the jobs, resources and opportunities that urban areas offer, pushing college graduates away from rural areas en masse.

In part, this move is encouraged by the fact that students are now more connected to foreign parts of the world than they used to be. Technology has made the prospects of the outside world accessible to nearly everyone, fueling more and more students to move away from their hometowns.

But rural areas also lack the resources and opportunities that draw many people to cities. From nightlife to networking opportunities, cities offer graduates a lifestyle that is unattainable in a rural town. This unequal distribution of opportunity has motivated rural students to embrace college, incentivising education as a way to escape a run-down hometown.

This education trend is also reinforced on the other end. Young rural residents who plan on staying in their hometowns are typically less inclined to go to college.

Since many rural jobs don’t require a college degree, college can seem like a waste of money for those who want to remain in rural areas.


Rural areas are stuck in a vicious cycle. Without jobs to offer, they can’t attract young, college-educated people, but these areas also can’t create more jobs without a college-educated labor force.

It’s nearly impossible for rural areas to appeal to young and educated residents when rural industries are no longer in demand. The United States’ fastest growing industries are in urban cities, and college graduates are just following the high-paying jobs.

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Header image: Adobe Stock


Posted 07.04.2017 - 01:39 pm EDT