The Role of Education: Promoting the Economic and Social Vitality of Rural America

Last Updated: January 01, 2005

The Role of Education: Promoting the Economic and Social Vitality of Rural America

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A special report issued by the Southern Rural Development Center, in partnership with the USDA Economic Research Service and the Rural School and Community Trust

There continues to be considerable discussion regarding the vital roles that good schools and a well-educated population play in promoting sound, local economic and community development activities. Certainly, it is commonsense that quality schools produce good citizens and skilled workers, and that employers are attracted to places having highly-educated labor. Recent federal and state efforts designed to tighten learning standards in our public schools are emblematic of the strong links that are believed to exist between education and a healthy local economy.

Today's rural leaders are becoming increasingly attuned to the fact that high achieving schools and related human capital investment strategies are key ingredients in the promotion of sustainable development at the local level. But, serious challenges often await rural areas that seek to pursue such efforts. As a case in point, if rural schools are successful in producing well-educated students, they run the risk of accelerating the exodus of talented youth to the larger cities that offer higher salaries and other important amenities. Certainly, rural areas can attempt to retain these talented individuals by expanding the availability of better paying, higher quality jobs in the locality. But, in far too many rural places, the necessary infrastructure and fiscal resources needed to create or attract such jobs are simply limited.

In an effort to further expand the knowledge base regarding the connections between rural education and local community well-being, the USDA's Economic Research Service and the Southern Rural Development Center (in partnership with the Rural School and Community Trust) hosted a two-day workshop in Spring 2003. A distinguished group of social scientists, along with practitioners and policy-analysts, delivered and discussed current research being undertaken on a variety of rural education and economic development-related subjects.

Nine of the research articles, presented over the course of this two-day symposium, are highlighted in this important report. Every article, either directly or indirectly, grapples with the rural education and community/economic connection. For sake of simplicity, the articles are divided into three thematic topics: (1) Education, Human Capital and the Local Economy; (2) Links between Rural Schools and Communities; and (3) Creating Successful Rural Schools and Students. We hope the articles are informative and that they stimulate greater interests by the social sciences research community in addressing current and emerging rural education and economic development challenges in rural America.