Monday, June 15, 2015

Newspaper localizes rural brain drain; examines career options for four recent high school grads

An excellent example of localizing coverage of the rural "brain drain" is seen in the first part of a series in The Southern Illinoisian that focuses on four graduating seniors in a state that ranks second nationally only to New Jersey in out-migration, losing 16,563 students in 2012, Sarah Halasz Graham reports for The Southern. Southern Illinois has seen its share of out-migration, with the median age increasing from 39.5 in 1980 to 41.7 in 2010, more than four years higher than the national average of 37.2. (Southern photo by Richard Sitler: Kaelyn Watson will have to leave Galatia, Ill., if she wants to be a pediatric nurse practitioner)

Kaelyn Watson loves her small town of Galatia, but she wants to be a pediatric nurse practitioner, and there are not many options for the profession in the town of 935, Graham writes. Galatia not only lacks a hospital, but the small town is also without a pediatrician’s office. Watson, who will attend Southern Illinois University in the fall, told Graham, “It sounds bad, but I don’t want to be held back by this community. I know it’s a good community, but at the same time, I’m not going to get the opportunities to do what I want."

Tenika Carter, also from Galatia, has found the opportunities she wants close to home, Graham writes. Carter will attend nearby Southeastern Illinois College, where she will study to be an occupational therapy assistant, a profession available in the region. Carter told Graham, “It’s always been here. That’s all I’ve ever known. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, growing up in a small town.”

Another profession available in Galatia is coal mining, with two American Coal mines within two miles of the town, Graham writes. That's a career move that suits Caleb Miner just fine, especially since starting pay ranges from $12/hour to $18/hour "with the potential for frequent raises and promotions to management-level positions." The key is getting hired on at the coal mines. If not, then Miner will look for a career as a truck driver or working barges, "which means month-long stints on the Ohio River pushing and tying up barges, far away from the town he’s called home for 18 years."

Like Watson, Kylee Brown is moving away for college, where she will attend the University of Missouri, Graham writes. But not without reservations. Brown, who is considering studying radiology, has been having second thoughts about trading small-town life for the big campus life in Columbia, Mo. She told Graham, "I never really thought of anything else but going away to college. Staying around here was never really an option. I’m kind of regretting it now."

The series will continue in the fall, looking at industry and economic factors behind the brain drain. The series concludes in the winter by exploring how communities can reverse the trend of rural brain drain. (Read more)

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