Stayers, goers, seekers, returners

A Chronicle of Higher Education article on emptying small towns in the Midwest sounds awfully familiar (may be behind a paywall):

Our year and a half spent interviewing the more than 200 young people who had attended the town’s high school in the late 1980s and early 1990s led us to categorize our young Iowans according to the defining traits of where their lives had taken them by their 20s and 30s. The largest group, approximately 40 percent, consisted of the working-class “stayers,” struggling in the region’s dying agro-industrial economy; about one in five became the collegebound “achievers,” who often left for good; just 10 percent included the “seekers” who join the military to see what the world beyond offers; and the rest were the “returners,” who eventually circled back to their hometowns, only a small number of whom were professionals we call “high fliers.” What surprised us most was that adults in the community were playing a pivotal part in the town’s decline by pushing the best and brightest young people to leave, and by underinvesting in those who chose to stay, even though it was the latter that were the towns’ best chance for a future…

Small towns need to equalize their investments across different groups of young people. While it would be impractical, and downright wrong, to abort students’ ambitions, there must be a radical rethinking of the goals of high-school education. The single-minded focus on pushing the most motivated students into four-year colleges must be balanced by efforts to match young people not headed for bachelor’s degrees with training, vocational, and assorted associate-degree programs. Those programs fill the needs of a postindustrial economy but acknowledge that not every student wants to, or will, pursue a more traditional college path.

So, what kind of education are we “Saying Yes” to here exactly?

2 thoughts on “Stayers, goers, seekers, returners

  1. Rich Finzer


    Interesting post despite the fact that the data appears to be nearly 20 years old.

    Today Iowa’s economy is doing much better. Corn based ethanol is putting $$$ into the farmer’s pockets. There have also been significant finds of both oil and natural gas. And unlike NY, Iowa seems eager to exploit these resources and thus has refrained from building a wall of environmental roadblocks preventing their development. The DEC has successfully blocked most NG drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation, and by the time they do loosen the permitting process the regs, they will have in place will make drilling both impractical and too expensive to pursue. Iowa on the other hand will be reaping mega dollarinos from their NG and laughing up their sleeve at the DEC drones in Albany. Think about it this way. How high would the productivity of the average bee hive be if there were no drones to be cared for and fed? But I digress.

    Another way to interpret the stats you cite is that 70% of the students either stayed from the get-go or returned. BTW, what town was the study conducted in and who gathered the data? Personally, I don’t thnk a 200 student sample is a large enough group to draw any conclusions from anyway. 20,000 students – maybe, but 200, nope.

    I’ll assume that you believe there is a parallel between Iowa 20 years ago and NY today. But I don’t believe the two states have much in common.
    NY’s population hemmorage is due to:
    Punishing levels of taxation
    Inept, corrupt politicians at nearly every level of government
    An evaporated industrial base
    And a failure in the government to even comprehend the basics of prudent fiscal policy regarding state spending. (The $10,000 stimulus signs are a sterling example of this)

    Iowa never touted itself as the “Empire State”, NY did. Now that empire is crumbling as the infrastructure fails, the educational system malfunctions, and the population seeks greener pastures. In the period from 2006-2007, NY lost 250,000 people! Think of that as nearly enough bodies to fill Syracuse TWICE!

    Am I being overly critical? I think not. You see there is nothing cruel or heartless about informing a terminally ill patient that they’re going to die. But, it would be an abrogation of even the slightest sliver of humaity to let them suffer in ignorance.

  2. Ellen

    Well, Iowa’s going to die too. Nothing can prevent it:

    No matter how oil, gas and ethanol Iowa or anyone else can provide, it will never be enough to sustain the complexity curve of today’s society. Eventually it will all collapse, or at the very least, contract. So, I think your assessment is far too optimistic.

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