ERIC Identifier: ED308058
Publication Date: 1989-03-00
Author: Howley, Craig B.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
The Impact of Rural Industries on the Outcomes of Schooling in
Rural America. ERIC Digest.
In recent years, the reform of rural schools, like the reform of urban and
suburban schools, has been urged as a means of contributing to the construction
of a competitive national economy. The issue of economic development, however,
differs in rural and urban America (DeYoung, 1985; Jacobs, 1984; Stephens,
The difference stems in part from the traditional relationship of rural and
urban areas. Traditionally, rural areas export to cities goods such as lumber,
minerals, and agricultural products, but they have also contributed the work of
employees who have abandoned rural areas in search of city jobs. Moreover, some
observers suggest that even when businesses transplant factories to rural areas,
urban economies reap most of the benefits (Jacobs, 1984). These observers cite
low-wages, export of profits, and the failure of transplanted factories to
stimulate locally-based production enterprises as problems.
Rural areas differ, too, from urban areas because their economies tend to be
specialized (Stephens, 1988). Though rural areas differ from one another in the
type of specialized economic activity each conducts, they share the fact of
specialization. Rural areas, then, contribute to the national economy in ways
different from urban areas, and what benefits the national economy will not
necessarily benefit the rural economy or rural schools.
For these reasons, the effect that specialized rural industries have on
educational outcomes is a topic of growing interest. The purpose of this digest
is to review the available literature on this emerging topic. The research
reported below deals with a variety of outcomes, though those of greatest
interest are academic outcomes.
WHAT ARE RURAL INDUSTRIES?
Stephens (l988) reviews a
typology of economic activity for nonmetropolitan counties developed by the
Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The typology
classifies nonmetro counties according to their principle economic activity as
o mining dependent, and
o specialized government counties.
Farming, mining, and manufacturing are traditional activities in rural areas,
and the USDA analysis confirms their continued relevance. In addition to these
four types of economic activity, Stephens reported three other categories
devised by the Department of Agriculture researchers: persistent poverty
counties; federal lands counties; and retirement counties.
This digest will review only recent work that has investigated the impact of
farming, manufacturing, and mining on school outcomes. These three categories
represent approximately 75% of all nonmetro counties classified by the USDA
(Stephens, l988, p. 12). First, however, let us consider briefly how economic
activity of a particular sort might influence school outcomes.
HOW MIGHT RURAL INDUSTRIES INFLUENCE EDUCATIONAL OUTCOMES IN
Education is generally thought to influence the economic status of
a nation by cultivating good work habits and usable skills among citizens. Some
observers question whether or not this general effect pertains to local economic
development, and still others (for example, DeYoung, 1989) believe that economic
structures are more likely to influence school outcomes than vice versa.
This dispute illustrates the wisdom of examining both alternatives, the
contribution of education to economic activity, and the influence of economic
activity on school outcomes. In some cases economic activity and education might
contribute mutually to each other's development. In other cases, the
contributions might be lopsided. In rural areas, where economies tend to be
specialized, educators have the opportunity to examine the mutual influences of
education and economics on one another.
With these possibilities in mind, we turn to a brief examination of recent
work that bears on the influence of the rural industries of farming,
manufacturing, and mining on school outcomes in rural areas.
In the past, farming-dependent
rural areas have tended to be comparatively stable, traditional communities.
Although the direct influence of agricultural activity on academic achievement
has been investigated in only one study, its indirect influence via vocational
agriculture programs has attracted considerable interest.
The one study that measured the direct relationship reported that farming
income correlated positively with various academic outcomes. This association,
however, disappeared when the influence of socioeconomic status was taken into
account (DeYoung, 1985).
Vocational agriculture programs, formal curricula that prepare students for
careers in agriculture, have been traditionally popular in farming and ranching
communities. Some commentators (for example, Hobbs, 1987) look to vocational
agriculture programs--and to the Future Farmers of America in particular--as
exemplars of a quality of educational experience that they believe should be
available to more communities. Hobbs, for example, credits vocational
agriculture with developing leadership and entrepreneurial skills among
students. These are the skills he believes are necessary to revitalizing rural
economies (Hobbs, 1987).
Recent studies confirm that students believe their high school vocational
agriculture programs positively influence their subsequent educational plans.
Stelhamer & Latham (1986) reported, for example, that most of the students
in their Montana sample pursued postsecondary studies after graduation.
Agriculture is also one of the industries in which high school students most
commonly hold part-time jobs (Charner & Fraser, 1988). These researchers
report that part-time employment of up to 20 hours per week seems to have a
positive effect on grades, though it does not appear to influence educational
plans (i.e., aspirations).
The available data are not inconsistent with the hypothesis that agriculture
exerts a positive influence on school outcomes in rural areas. According to
Stephens (1988), however, the farm crisis of the 1980s may presage significant
economic changes in agriculture. The effect of these new agricultural
circumstances on school outcomes may be a topic of future investigations.
Since the 1960s, economic
development experts have recommended that rural communities induce manufacturers
to relocate industrial plants in their regions. Rural communities that used this
strategy successfully offered incentives, such as low-interest loans and tax
forgiveness programs, that were attractive to manufacturers. Such trends are
potentially harmful, at least in the short term, to school budgets. Is there a
discernible relationship between recent manufacturing growth and school
According to Rosenfeld, Bergman, and Rubin (1985), a study of economic growth
from 1969 to 1979 found that, in general, a 4 percent increase in employment was
associated with a 10 percent increase in educational attainment (years in
school). However, the same increase in educational attainment was associated
with a net loss of employment in manufacturing. These data suggest the
possibility that manufacturing dependency and educational outcomes might be
The evidence, however, is hardly conclusive, and Rosenfeld and colleagues
(1985) also report that more recent data suggest the opposite conclusion.
However, their data also show that manufacturing-dependent counties in the South
experienced lower rates of economic growth than other counties.
Among the 2073 nonmetro counties
classified by the USDA, fewer than 10% are mining-dependent counties (Stephens,
1988). For the most part, these counties are located in mountainous regions in
the East and West (Bender et al., 1985). Of these, the Appalachian coal-mining
regions have received the most attention in the educational literature.
Several studies conducted at the University of Kentucky have investigated the
effect of mining economies on schooling, in particular the achievement of
students (Bagby et al., 1985; DeYoung, 1985). Differences between Appalachian
and non-Appalachian counties have been found to be significant. The differences
seem most strongly associated with coal mining.
These researchers present data that suggest that mining economies exert a
negative influence on student achievement. The negative influence persists even
when the influence of socioeconomic status is held constant. For example,
DeYoung (1985) found that high proportions of income derived from mining exerted
a significant negative influence on student outcomes, whereas a similar effect
was not observed for other types of economic activity (farming, manufacturing,
and government). Other research is needed both to confirm these effects in
Appalachia and to investigate such relations in mining-dependent counties
A TOPIC TO WATCH
Research on the impact of rural economic
activity on school outcomes in rural areas is in its infancy. Popular concern
for the contributions education and training make to economic life, however,
indicates the need to understand better the way in which education and economic
life influence each other.
The available studies suggest that the mutual influence of school outcomes
and economic life can be fruitfully examined. The need to understand just how
these mutual influences might work is perhaps more pressing in rural than in
urban and suburban education, because the economic base of rural America has
changed so dramatically since the 1950s (Stephens, 1988). Before schools can
make a practical contribution to economic development in rural areas, the
two-way relationship of education and economics will need to be much better
Bagby, J., Carpenter, C., Crew, K., DeYoung, A.,
Eller, R., Hougland, R., Jones, J., Nash, F., & Tickamyer, C. (1985).
EDUCATION AND FINANCIAL RESOURCES IN APPALACHIAN KENTUCKY (Appalachian Data Bank
Report #2). Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, Appalachian Center. (ERIC
Document Reproduction Service No. ED 266 902)
Bender, L., Green, B., Hady, T., Kuehn, J., Nelson, M., Perkinson, L., &
Ross, P. (1985). THE DIVERSE SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC STRUCTURE OF NONMETROPOLITAN
AMERICA (Rural Development Research Report Number 49, United States Department
of Agriculture, Economic Research Service). Washington, D.C.: United States
Government Printing Office. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 262 939).
Charner, I., & Fraser, B. (1988). YOUTH AND WORK: WHAT WE KNOW, WHAT WE
DON'T KNOW, WHAT WE NEED TO KNOW. Washington, DC: William T. Grant Foundation.
(ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 292 980).
DeYoung, A. J. (1985). Economic development and educational status in
Appalachian Kentucky. COMPARATIVE EDUCATION REVIEW, 29(1), 47-67.
DeYoung, A. (1989). ECONOMICS AND AMERICAN EDUCATION. NY: Longman.
Hobbs, D. (1987, October). LEARNING TO FIND THE "NICHES": RURAL EDUCATION AND
VITALIZING RURAL COMMUNITIES. Paper prepared for the National Rural Education
Research Forum, Lake Placid, NY. ERIC Documentation Reproduction Service No. ED
Jacobs, J. (1984). CITIES AND THE WEALTH OF NATIONS: PRINCIPLES OF ECONOMIC
LIFE. NY: Random House.
Rosenfeld, S., Bergman, E., & Rubin, S. (1985). AFTER THE FACTORIES.
North Carolina: Southern Growth Policies Board.
Shelhamer, V., & Latham, L. (1986). IMPACT OF VOCATIONAL AGRICULTURE TRAINING ON THE CONTINUED LEARNING PATTERNS OF FORMER MONTANA VOCATIONAL AGRICULTURE STUDENTS. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. (ERIC
Document Reproduction Service No. ED 275 911).
Stephens, E. (1988). THE CHANGING CONTEXT OF EDUCATION IN A RURAL SETTING.
Charleston, WV: Appalachia Educational Laboratory. Prepared by Craig B. Howley, ERIC/CRESS, Charleston, WV.