We're smarter than we used to be.
At least that's what a study by the Center for Rural Strategies determined when it examined the percentages of Warren County citizens who finished high school and pursued college degrees in 2010 as compared to 1970.
The study looked at every county in the U.S. that is classified as "rural" and also with cities of less than 50,000 people, Tim Marema, vice president of the Center for Rural Strategies, said on Wednesday.
In 1970, 6.9 percent of Warren County adults 25 years and older had college degrees. That number jumped to 16.9 percent in 2010, but is still well below the national average of 27.9 percent nationwide and 26.4 percent throughout the Commonwealth.
"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," Bill Bishop, who writes for an online news publication that highlights rural issues, the Daily Yonder, wrote. "But the percentage of adults with degrees in counties with small cities, such as Warren County, while increasing, has generally fallen behind the proportion of college-educated residents in urban counties."
However, trends show higher numbers of Warren County citizens completing high school and at a rate that supersedes the national average.
Included in their conclusions is county-level data for each decade since 1970. In 1970, 12,358 of Warren County's 27,518 adults had not completed high school. That number decreased to 9,621 in 1980 and decreased further by the year 2010 to 3,335 of 29,927 adults in 2010.
On the flip side, 11,213 people in the county had attained their high school diploma in 1970, a number that grew to 14,148 in 2010. The number of college graduates has nearly tripled during that same time frame, from 1,895 to 5,051, and those who were identified as having completed some college jumped from 2,052 to 7,393.
To put it in percentages, 44.9 percent of the population 25 years of age and over in 1970 had less than a high school education.
That number in 2010 was 11.1 percent. Nationwide, 15 percent of adults had not completed high school in 2010.
As for the source of the data, Marema said that the numbers were formulated "using Census data compiled by the Economic Research Service of the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture)." He added that Warren County was "one of about 2,000 counties nationally that we reviewed." The study concludes that "the good news for rural America is that is has caught up" with the national averages regarding high school and college trends.
Similar trends play out in neighboring McKean and Forest counties. The percentages of those who completed college, 6.6 and 1.9 percent respectively, grew in 2010 to 15.6 and 9.6 percent respectively.
The study raises some poignant concerns that are reflected in the ways increased educational opportunities have impacted rural communities.
A release from the Center for Rural Strategies cites an economist, Judith Stallmann, who said, "One of the problems that rural areas face is that in order to get a college education, young people often have to leave...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. Young people graduating from high school don't see many jobs that demand a college diploma, so they don't think about coming home once they leave for university."
The Center for Rural Strategies is a non-profit entity that "seeks to improve economic and social conditions for communities in the countryside and around the world through the creative and innovative use of media and communications," according to their website.