Following a series of surveys and focus groups with middle schoolers, high schoolers and Tabor College students, leaders working with Hillsboro’s Youth Engagement and Entrepreneurship Initiative feel they have a much better idea of what young people think about living in the community.
Some 200 students from the local middle school and high school and 100 students from Tabor College were asked for their input earlier this year.
Leon Atwell, representing Advancing Rural Prosperity Inc., and Craig Schroeder, representing the Center for Entrepreneurship, presented the results to the 18 city and community representatives attending the March 27 mini-retreat.
A written report summarizing the survey results from the Hillsboro schools listed five key findings:
• A strong majority of youth surveyed felt their hometown offers a high quality of life for young people (63 percent) and 41 percent picture themselves living in the local area in the future; 36 percent of youth surveyed stated it is very likely they will stay or return to the community if quality career or business opportunities are available.
The primary motivations given were that their community is a good place to raise a family (80 percent) and family ties (67 percent).
At the same time, perceptions that better career opportunities are available elsewhere with higher incomes were given as significant reasons for not pursuing this option (64 and 53 percent, respectively). Lack of entertainment options also ranked as an important issue (54 percent).
• Their wide variety of career interests present both challenges and opportunities. First, some desired careers may not be widely available locally, resulting in young people leaving the region to access these jobs.
At the same time, with information technology and entrepreneurship, a much wider array of careers are possible in rural communities than in the past.
• A large majority of youth surveyed plan to attend college or technical school (91 percent) after high school, which reinforces the importance of engaging alumni in identifying opportunities to return home in the future.
• The significant percentage of young people willing to volunteer to support their community (79 percent) creates tangible opportunities for addressing youth out-migration and growing the local economy into the future through effective youth engagement.
This compares to only 30 percent who report that they have been asked about making the community a better place to live.
The presenters identified three key survey findings arising from Tabor College students.
• A number of college students surveyed picture themselves living in the local area in the future (24 percent), though 83 percent have lived in the Hillsboro area for five years or less.
Reinforcing this data, 19 percent stated it is very likely they will stay or return to the community if quality career or business opportunities are available. The primary motivations given were that the community is a good place to raise a family (75 percent) and the cost of living is lower (61 percent).
However, the perception that better career opportunities are available elsewhere was given as the most significant reason for not pursuing this option (66 percent).
Feelings that the community is too small and that there are too few entertainment options for young people also ranked as important issues to respondents (48 percent and 44 percent respectively).
• The wide variety of career interests identified by the college students present the same challenges and opportunities that involve middle and high school students: some desired careers may not be widely available locally, but information technology and entrepreneurship make a wider array of careers possible in rural communities.
Also, because of the clustering of career interests in four areas, there may be opportunities to focus on creating job and business opportunities that match with these interests and also fit well with the community’s economic development priorities.
This opportunity is particularly strong and immediate with 62 percent of respondents indicating they plan to enter the workforce after college graduation.
• The significant percentage of college students willing to volunteer to improve the community (79 percent) creates tangible opportunities to deepening their relationship with Hillsboro, and attract more college graduates to stay or return in the future.
Involving college students in addressing areas they feel would make the community a better place to live, such as more entertainment and recreation options, can further enhance this opportunity.