Rural college graduates: Who comes home?


Sowl, S.; Smith, R.; & Brown, M. (2020). Rural college graduates: Who comes home?. Association for the Study of Higher Education Annual Conference. Virtual.


Many rural communities throughout the United States have experienced brain drain or the out-migration of educated young people. Explanations for why college-educated adults leave rural communities have relied on economic rationales; however, the effects of social identities, community context, and place attachment have also been shown to influence migration decisions. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), this study examines factors experienced during adolescence as well as postsecondary characteristics that promote college graduates' return to their rural communities when they are between the ages of 34 and 43. We find that among college graduates who had attended a rural public K-12 school, those who had higher levels of school attachment were significantly more likely to return home compared with graduates who had lower levels of school attachment. The findings also suggest that graduates who came from a lower college-educated community were more likely to return home than those from average or highly college-educated communities. By analyzing long-term outcomes, this study extends our understanding of the strengths of adolescent experiences and neighborhood context influencing the pull to return home and the support for policies strengthening rural communities as there may be long-term effects to returning home, even if youth leave for college.



Abstract retrieved from Rural Sociology

Reference Type

Conference proceeding

Book Title

Association for the Study of Higher Education Annual Conference


Sowl, S.
Smith, R.
Brown, M.

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