HomeRural Teacher CorpsSouth Dakota Student Addresses Rural "Brain Drain"

South Dakota Student Addresses Rural "Brain Drain"

Andrew Dellman is from rural Brandon, South Dakota, and he is a junior in the University of South Dakota’s innovative GoTeach program, an effort dedicated to preparing outstanding teachers for small, rural school districts.

Rural “brain drain,” where many of the brightest and most capable young people leave small communities, is one of the biggest threats to rural America. Dellman explores this subject and provides some thought-provoking insights on the phenomenon.

The Center for Midwestern Initiatives appreciates Dellman’s attention to this matter, and we encourage other future teachers to share their thoughts on our website.

Fighting the Brain Drain

The “brain drain,” a concept from Patrick Carr and Maria Kefalas's book Hollowing Out the Middle, is an issue that affects everyone in South Dakota.  The brain drain is the outmigration of trained individuals from rural America to urbanized places around the nation.  In their book, Carr and Kefalas, sociologists from two universities in New York, argue that this outmigration is a direct result of the actions of the communities.  As Jim Beddow, a former gubernatorial candidate in South Dakota and current consultant to the Rural Learning Center, phrased it, schools and communities in rural America are giving youth the idea they have to “leave to succeed.”  As South Dakotans, the brain drain is something we need to understand and the actions being taken to stop it are something we should learn about.  The reversal of the brain drain is necessary to preserve the communities that we love to live in.

South Dakota communities are falling victim to the brain drain all across the state.  According to census data 41 of 66 counties in South Dakota declined from 2000 to 2010 with 19 counties losing over 10% of their population.  This loss, as stated by Carr and Kefalas, is in part the problem of the communities themselves.  The schools, as well as the communities themselves in these areas, give students the idea that success is not achievable in the communities they live in.  I recently conducted a survey amongst members of the School of Education at the University of South Dakota and found that many of the same things recorded by Carr and Kefalas were present in the students there.  A majority of the students I talked to say they think success can be equal in their community and other communities but they would never go back to where they are from for various reasons.  One student responded, “I will never go back,” another responded “nothing, they have discouraged me to go work back at the school.”  Of the few that said they would go back most wanted to go back to correct things that their community had not done well.  One student said, “I would like to go back to improve the school because it’s failing.” Others had similar responses, all looking to bring something to the community they thought it was lacking. 

The negative message we are sending, that you have to “leave to succeed,” is the reason that our youth do not want to come back.  Over 50 of students surveyed said they thought they could be successful in their community, but their community never made an effort to get them to come back.  Small communities in the state emphasize success is tied to going to college and getting a degree.  Over 75% of the students surveyed said in the high school they went to teachers spent more time with college bound students than any other group.  Why would we focus our schooling on students that we make no effort to retain? 

Click to view the entire article, "Fighting the Brain Drain," by Andrew Dellman.