In a recently published report titled, “Rural College Graduates: Who Comes Home?” author Stephanie Sowl, a Ph.D. candidate at Iowa State University, and her co-authors, Rachel Smith and Michael Brown, explored the patterns and reasoning behind why college graduates are returning to their rural hometowns. In the report, the authors refer to this phenomenon as “brain gain.”

In an interview conducted by The Daily Yonder about the report’s findings, Sowl stated that college graduates from lower-educated communities were more likely to return to their hometowns than college graduates from higher-educated communities. Although several factors could contribute to this pattern—such as the desire for more affordable housing or to be closer to family—one motivating factor particularly stood out: the desire to strengthen their communities.

Many college graduates are returning to their rural communities to utilize their new skillsets, bring fresh, outsourced ideas into their communities and create positive change.

To continue the brain gain trend in rural communities, Sowl suggests that community leaders invest time and money into education, especially grades K-12, so college graduates and current students feel positive and confident in the community’s future. Additionally, Sowl stresses that communities must highlight potential career opportunities for college graduates, so they continue to see the benefits of returning home.

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