MASON COUNTY — According to a recent release from dailyyonder.com, Mason County has experienced an increase of the number of adults who have earned college degrees over the past 40 years.
It was reported that in 1970, 4.4 percent of those over 25 years of age in Mason County had earned a college degree. By 2010, that number increased to 10.3 percent of adults. The release continues, stating the number of adults in the United States with college degrees has nearly tripled since 1970, when only 10.7 percent of adults had graduated from college.
While the number of college graduates from within Mason County has increased, it was also reported that the percentage of local adults with college degrees was less than the national average of 27.9 percent in 2010, as well as the average for the state of West Virginia, which was 17.3 percent.
“One of the problems that rural areas face is that in order to get a college education, young people often have to leave,” says Judith Stallmann, an economist at the University of Missouri. “Once you leave, that introduces you to other opportunities that you might not have seen had you not left.”
In Mason County, according to the release, five percent of adults had some college education in 1970, rising to 24.3 percent in 2010, compared to the West Virginia average in 2010, which was 23.4 percent. Mason County had 13,405 adults (those over 25 years of age) in 1970 and 19,238 adults in 2010. Nationally, it was reported that in 1970, 7.8 percent of adults in rural counties had some education after high school, but less than a college degree. By 2010, 27.4 percent of rural adults had attained some post high school education without earning a college degree, which was close to the national average of 28.1 percent.
It was also stated that 21 percent of the adult population in Mason County had failed to graduate from high school in 2010. Nationally, 15 percent of adults had not completed high school; in West Virginia, the rate was 18.1 percent.
According to Mark Partridge, a rural economist at Ohio State University, regional differences in college graduation rates have increased in recent years. Partridge said his studies have found that rural counties and counties with small cities in the South and West didn’t fare as well as those in the Midwest and Northeast in attracting college graduates. Even though the Sunbelt has seen tremendous growth over the past few decades, the South’s rural counties haven’t kept up in terms of attracting adults with college degrees.
Stallmann said this is a reflection of the kinds of jobs that are generally available in rural communities. If there are fewer jobs demanding college degrees in a community, there are likely to be fewer college graduates.
“It’s a big deal in a lot of rural counties because you don’t see a lot of jobs that require a college education,” Stallmann said. “There can be a ‘self-reinforcing cycle’ in rural communities. Young people leave to gain higher education, and they don’t come back after college because there aren’t jobs that demand such education, and their absence diminishes the chances that more of these kinds of jobs will be created.”
Nationally, it was stated that some rural counties and counties with small cities have caught up with urban counties in the percentage of adults who have some post high school education. Stallmann stated this could be a sign that there are more jobs in rural areas that require post-secondary education, but not college.
Both Stallmann and Partridge said the data on college education rates told them that rural communities should consider the kind of jobs being created locally.
“Rural communities may need to think about the types of jobs being created,” Stallmann said. “There are some communities that are doing things like getting local businesses to put an emphasis on hiring local kids who got a college education.”
“It really suggests that rural communities that aren’t thinking about making themselves attractive to educated people are really going to suffer,” Partridge said.