Leaving or staying in your hometown after college

by WCE

On going to college from the Blackfeet Indian Reservation:

The Blackfeet Brain Drain
Some Native kids who leave to pursue education find themselves stuck between a longing to help their community and the lack of viable employment back home.

We’ve talked about winning the geographic lottery at birth, which occurs when you are born/grow up somewhere with professional job opportunities. One of the reasons some people are reluctant to invest in higher education is that they don’t want to move and their communities have few jobs with returns to higher education.

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84 thoughts on “Leaving or staying in your hometown after college

  1. I grew up in a small college town in Vermont (about 10,000 people). My three closest friends from high school and I have all moved away. And as I think of it, the majority of my friends from high school have moved away. Apart from teaching at the college, there were few career opportunities.

    My brother did end up moving back to Vermont (different town though). He fell in love with someone who wanted to be large animal vet – and Vermont is a good place for that :-)

  2. The Blackfeet Reservation is the size of Deleware and has a population of 10k. Ideally the author wants MC and UMC jobs for kids to return to. I just think 10k people on almost 2 million acres just isn’t enough to make that feasible.

  3. The only solution I can think of would be to change the law to allow the Tribal Sovereign Nations to become a domestic version of Lichtenstein, Monaco, Andorra, San Marino, Bermuda, etc. If places like that are going to exist, why not keep in the family sort to speak?

  4. It is really tough for people who come from an embattled cultural group, because if you leave, you lose your culture – and more importantly, your culture loses one more person. And yet, there really are no opportunities in places so rural. I don’t know what the answer is.

  5. Unless they can make business and tourists come to them, there isn’t much you can do to improve the local economy and create jobs that college educated individuals value. There is a tribe near me that is doing very very well in both finances and maintain their culture. Their land is suburban and they have benefited from having a casino drawing urban/suburban/tourists, as well as lucrative land deals. Location Location Location will win every time.

  6. Fred,

    More googling indicates that pic is of Two Medicine Lake which is just across the border in Glacier National Park. Their territory is just down the valley at Lower Two Medicine Lake which is somewhat similar.

  7. My hometown was about 30,000 people but has limited opportunities available for highly-skilled returnees. Of the people I know who went back or stayed, the more successful ones (3) are now running their family’s family-owned businesses, or took over another family’s family-owned business. There’s not a lot of new businesses (that are successful) since the population size is stagnant and aging. Some other people I know moved to the bigger city (60,000) or to Boston, and the other high-powered people are in NYC, Chicago, or LA. Definitely a brain drain.

  8. Fred, the physical geography is similar, but the human geography is not. Lemon Tree is right on target about the importance of proximity to other people and settlements.

  9. I can picture a very bifurcated society on the Blackfoot land, where some people move back after college and make a living doing something online, while others wind up providing them with services. Or, if there are college-educated people there working as programmers, translators, whatever online, they could decide to set up a scholarship fund for whoever was most capable. Of course, there are other issues that would have to be dealt with, like non-native men not being prosecuted for rape, the legacy of “Indian Schools”, alcoholism, and US threats to take their land and resources.

  10. I haven’t kept up with my high school class much, but it seems most of them moved to cities 1-3 hrs away. The kids whose families had a funeral parlor, jewelry store, and car dealership each have 1 or 2 kids working in those businesses, at least until the car dealership kid got the backing of Trumpites and was recently elected to the state legislature. My sister and her husband, who went to the same high school, have stayed (or “moved back” after living an hour away for a few years), but their son went through seminary and now has a job as a pastor in Canada. Idk what he’ll do when the temp (2 yr) position is up, but I haven’t heard anything that indicates he and his wife feel a pull to live close to their families (hers is 45 min up the road into Amish country)

  11. So it seems to me that these kinds of areas don’t necessarily need “college education” in general (for the reasons the author mentions), but rather entrepreneurship and knowledgeable government and salesmanship. I am thinking of how states actively go after businesses and companies that would add to the local economy — Tribal governments should be able to do the same. There are so many jobs that are outsourced today — coding jobs, litigation/document management companies in my industry, etc. There is no reason these kinds of jobs can’t be done on the Reservation just as easily as anywhere else — they just need some coordination and planning (local CCs to provide the training/education for the potential employees, governments to provide the outreach and streamlined approvals and make the connections to the companies who need that kind of work done, companies who are looking for ways to “do good work” while still making money). I could easily see some of the younger/idealistic tech companies doing stuff like this. And even if it isn’t as immediately profitable as other locations because they don’t have the pre-existing trained workforce, I bet they could get a lot of solid advertising from the effort.

    Or, you know, look at what you do have locally and try to build on that. RV parks and services that cater to all the oil and gas workers? A massive tourist campaign to get people to come visit the natural beauty, with knowledgeable/trained guides in whatever the local area is known for (birdwatching, nature hikes, river rafting, geology, dinosaur bones, big-game hunting, ancient cultures, etc.)? There are no panaceas, but there has to be something more than running a convenience store.

    OTOH, there’s a major cultural balance there. Because they’re going to want to bring non-Tribal money in, but they probably don’t want to bring in a lot of non-Tribal residents, which would also change the culture in significant ways. I mean, I really like Rhett’s idea in theory, but if you start offering what is effectively “offshore” banking, you’re going to attract a lot of outsiders who want to come get a piece of that pie. But at the same time, 10,000 people in an area the size of Delaware just isn’t remotely close to a sustainable local economic base, so I don’t know how you grow those economies without bringing new people in.

  12. I grew up in suburbia so a lot of my HS classmates (I keep in touch with 1 person) still live in the area. My town, or the next town, or across the Bay, doesn’t really matter.

    Where we live now…DS1 has moved to a much larger city with a growing economy and I doubt he’ll ever move back. I expect DS3 to do the same. DS2 is a ? If he becomes a doctor like he wants to be I half expect he’d want to move back here, but there’s always going to be demand for his to-be-acquired skillset.

  13. “I craved to be around writers, and the writers I knew were on campuses and in urban areas. I felt a need to be in a culture where the fine arts were appreciated, where that type of intellectual discussion was commonplace.”

    This author isn’t really all that much different from J.D. Vance. Or someone like Michelle Obama, who was raised on Chicago’s South Side and will likely never return. If society sincerely wants young people to be free to follow their dreams, it must also accept that some of them who lost the geographic lottery at birth will relocate permanently to more attractive areas. Why should those young people feel more responsible than the rest of us for fixing the communities in which they grew up?

  14. The difference with Chicago’s South Side is that you could move to say the Gold Coast after you make it, and still easily visit back with the folks on the South Side. Or you could even live on the South Side and commute to your nice job. The Obamas actually had their house near UChicago, which is a very nice area, but technically on the South Side..

  15. Why should those young people feel more responsible than the rest of us for fixing the communities in which they grew up?

    And should we burden them with the idea that these communities need to be saved rather than abandoned?

  16. “The difference with Chicago’s South Side is that you could move to say the Gold Coast after you make it, and still easily visit back with the folks on the South Side.”

    Visit. Not live there and deal with the horrific gun violence.
    The author of the posted article sounded rather whiny and entitled, on further reflection. He is pushing 40 and still living rather like an adolescent trying to find himself.

  17. He is pushing 40 and still living rather like an adolescent trying to find himself.

    He doesn’t strike me as the one to restart the Blackfeet economy.

  18. Michelle Obama also grew up in South Shore which is not all that different geographically or culturally from Hyde Park/Kenmore – where they still own a house, are building the Obama Presidential Center, and were living a pretty nice UMC life before Barack was even a US Senator. I don’t think either neighborhood is what people allude to when they say “South Side” especially South Shore in the 60’s and 70’s. Then again, many people who use “South Side” as a euphemism for “ghetto” or “violence” never go there & don’t actually know anything about the neighborhoods. It’s a peeve of mine, especially being married to a proud South Sider.

  19. Anyway – the point still stands that in a big city, you can train for a professional job, and move from one neighborhood to a better one. But growing up in a rural area doesn’t provide that kind of opportunity in proximity to your childhood home.

    There is some professional opportunity near my parents, but it is centered around a few big employers so people are somewhat stuck in that sense if they want to stay there long term. And that is better than the truly rural areas.

  20. “There are so many jobs that are outsourced today — coding jobs, litigation/document management companies in my industry, etc. There is no reason these kinds of jobs can’t be done on the Reservation just as easily as anywhere else ”

    Do these remote, rural reservations have adequate access to intranet and IT infrastructure?

  21. Eh, I didn’t get whiny and entitled — more like torn and naïve. I think being raised with the expectation that you will save your community imposes a significant burden, and thus a lot of guilt; and I imagine leaving that community creates a serious culture shock, especially when you are then entering the culture that basically wiped out yours and yet is completely oblivious to the long-term impacts of that on your own culture. OTOH, he clearly had no idea of how the world actually works; the idea that simply getting a college degree in any subject is the path upwards for an entire culture, and that that degree comes along with both “doing what you love” AND being able to live where you want while doing it, is incredibly naïve. I can see that in a college kid, and he clearly now gets the first part of that. But at the same time, I’d expect that by now he’d understand that being a “writer” doesn’t really generate economic growth — that he helped his community by coming back and teaching the next generation, but that he didn’t exactly choose a career path that helped generate economic demand to entice more people like him to stay/return. As a result, it is thus not a surprise that if he wants better options, he needs to go where there is an economy that can support that.

    Yeah, ok, I actually am talking myself around to being a little annoyed. Because if his top priorities were really supporting himself in a white-collar profession and serving his community, as he seems to profess, then the job he had teaching at the CC seems like an excellent way to do so. But those aren’t really his top priorities, because when push came to shove, he was willing to give up the service role for a more fulfilling opportunity (more writing, less teaching). Now, obviously, that is a perfectly valid reason for moving, and a choice many of us here have made. But he frames up that decision as a Hobson’s choice that is going to leave him bereft either way, not as a voluntary choice between two good-if-imperfect options. And that framing demonstrates that he still believes he is entitled to that perfect job by virtue of his college degree — that simply getting that degree should magically generate a job exactly where he wants to live, doing work that serves his community, while also helping him develop his true love (writing). And that, really, sounds kind of like a sixteen-year-old who hasn’t yet figured out how the world actually works, and who hasn’t yet developed the empathy or perspective to realize that everyone around him also has to make those kinds of choices every day, because no one gets everything.

  22. According to the 2010 census, these are the numbers for my hometown area:

    The median income for a household in the metropolitan statistical area (~city plus suburbs) was $38,352. Males had a median income of $38,086 versus $25,589 for females. The per capita income for the MSA was $19,788.

    The median income for a household in the city is $24,536 and the median income for a family is $30,614. Males have a median income of $30,938 versus $23,982 for females. The per capita income for the city is $14,991. 26.6% of the population and 23% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 38.4% of those under the age of 18 and 14% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.

    An hour’s drive away:
    The median income for a household in the MSA was $42,733, and the median income for a family was $50,687. Males had a median income of $36,777 versus $25,999 for females. The per capita income for the MSA was $19,626.

    I see plenty of reasons to have left my hometown area.

  23. You’re being a little hard on the author. Lots of people “don’t know how the world works” when they go off to college, even those of us who should damn well know. He believed the stuff about a college education being important without really focusing on how you need an economic infrastructure. That’s not unusual. And he didn’t seem to me to be whining about not having a job he “loved”.

  24. @Rocky — ITA about not understanding all that stuff when he went off to college. The only part that bugged me was at the end — about how the teaching wasn’t allowing him to really focus on the writing like he wanted and so he had to leave. Because there’s nothing special about that; that’s the kind of thing every single person deals with. But really, I am more sympathetic than annoyed, because I know I have no experience in the kind of upbringing he had or expectations he was burdened with or feeling split between two cultures, etc.

  25. The end of the article is couched in coded language:

    Though I was one of the few who found the kind of job an educated reservation Indian is supposed to find, I remained conflicted. Due to my professional duties, along with the stress that comes with teaching students from a community broken by colonial force, I found myself writing less. So I applied for a Stegner Fellowship in creative writing at Stanford University, and was accepted

    “the stress that comes with teaching students from a community broken by colonial force” means alcoholic, delinquent, violent students. So he probably feels guilty about not “saving” some of those students. But it would be really hard to teach them, probably much harder than just ordinary, hungover, disaffected students, which is what most college professors teach.

  26. Leaving home and family to go to college, and then realizing that there may be no way home happens to a lot of people. That was one of the reasons that many kids from my high school didn’t go to away to college. There is a real cost that comes with moving up the socioeconomic ladder. You aren’t really part of the people you left behind and you aren’t really a part of the people you became. That is a harsh bargain, but it is one that many people make. I have some sympathy for the author, but only a little. Life is full of harsh bargains, and in the end, he chose a set of tradeoffs.

    As for reasons why the reservations lag so far behind the rest of the country:

    “Meanwhile, outsiders who might consider investing on reservations have difficulty assessing the risks because tribes are separate sovereign entities, with distinct and unfamiliar laws and legal structures, so they often avoid investing altogether.”

    It is a LOT riskier to do business on a reservation, and it is not clear that the potential rewards compensate for the increased risk. It is not a risk that I chose to take and I don’t know too many people who choose it. If the author is serious about changing the harsh bargain, then one way to have an economy with MC and UMC jobs is to decrease the risks associated with creating those jobs.

  27. “Leaving home and family to go to college, and then realizing that there may be no way home happens to a lot of people. That was one of the reasons that many kids from my high school didn’t go to away to college. There is a real cost that comes with moving up the socioeconomic ladder. You aren’t really part of the people you left behind and you aren’t really a part of the people you became. That is a harsh bargain, but it is one that many people make. I have some sympathy for the author, but only a little. Life is full of harsh bargains, and in the end, he chose a set of tradeoffs.”

    I totally agree.

  28. Leaving one’s distinct culture and community is tough in the beginning. To go on and be happy, do not be guilted but see the positive. The author probably couldn’t save others but at least he got out and saved himself which itself is a big deal. In a way he is an ambassador and can still possibly do good from the outside.

  29. ““Leaving home and family to go to college, and then realizing that there may be no way home happens to a lot of people.”

    I think this is one reason a lot of kids at my kids’ school want to be MDs.

  30. I grew up in the DC area of the 50s, before there was a permanent governing class, so almost everyone was transient and planning to go back home when the years of service were over. The idea of having classmates K to 12 was foreign, as was having extended family nearby. So i feel #blessed to have brought my own family up in Boston where we have maintained ties and there is a congenial lifestyle despite weather deemed too cold and housing stock too small, old and expensive and people too standoffish.

  31. hijack and parental brag alert…
    DS2 got his PSAT score today. It is the same score his older brother got, and you know where that led… I really wasn’t sure how he would do because he tends to have a lot of test anxiety, whereas older brother is as cold as ice when it comes to tests. I am glad they came out the same because DS2 tends to compare himself against his brother quite a bit.

  32. Mooshi, congrats on your DS2’s score.

    Be aware that the NMSF cutoffs have been trending higher.

  33. Yeah, I know, but his score is well above last year’s cutoff. We will see…
    Our school did not have any finalists last year!

  34. Parental brag alert…
    DS drove a pickup off the road into a neighbors field. By himself, without anyone telling him to, he got the pickup out and filled in the ruts and fixed the problem.

  35. Mooshi, that’s great!

    Cassandra, it’s great to see them grow into responsible people.

  36. Cassandra, in s million years my oldest kids could not do that. But my daughter, maybe… hopefully she can follow your kid’s footsteps.

  37. Rocky, I totally agree that teaching on the reservation requires an additional skill set beyond subject mastery and basic pedagogy, and think this author is wise to have recognized that he doesn’t have it. The bit about “broken by colonial force” doesn’t seem coded to me, but then again, if LfB didn’t realize the deeper implications of that phrase, then it probably does need to be elucidated. Sexual assault and rapes are one type of trauma Native Americans face that I don’t think the rest of us really realize. Non-Native American men who rape someone on a reservation are usually not charged. Knowing that they can act with impunity, men go there intending to assault women.
    https://publicintegrity.org/federal-politics/murdered-and-missing-native-american-women-challenge-police-and-courts/
    This piece has links to publications by various sources, including the GAO
    https://vawnet.org/sc/gender-based-violence-and-intersecting-challenges-impacting-native-american-alaskan-village-1
    **************************************
    Cassandra, such an awesome feeling to see your kid step up like that!

    Mooshi, if he remembers me, tell DS2 congrats from me.

  38. Ivy, when Michelle Obama talks about being from the South Side, she’s referencing her childhood, not a few years of married life after she and her husband had both earned advanced degrees.

  39. Mooshi — congrats!

    Cassandra — awesome!

    I really, really love the stories people tell here when their kids do something good. Gives me a warm fuzzy.

  40. but his score is well above last year’s cutoff.

    He’s the one who went through chemo and radiation and all that, right?

  41. Mooshi, nothing wrong with giving a refurb, IMO. My experience with refurbs is they work just fine and you can save quite a bit. I actually just ordered a refurbed Vitamix for DW for Christmas.

  42. I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving anyone outside my immediate family a refurb, but I also don’t exchange presents with friends and I don’t have much of an extended family.

    Of course, I was as a middle aged adult entirely astonished to learn about regifting. I had a 50th birthday party and got some delightful little things – picture frames, curio boxes that I use to this day. Of course, in hindsight, they were all regift items from people who exchange those sorts of items routinely as part of their lives. I used to stock up on hostess gifts from my travels, and of course now realize that they went straight into the regift closet. That is part of the reason I can only enjoy the enthusiasm for selecting gifts as as a bemused voyeur.

    And don’t get me started on re-using wrapping paper. That was one of my first culture shocks in my young family sojourn among the evangelical Presbyterians.

  43. We buy almost all our electronics as refurb (DSLR, phones, tvs, laptops). Most of the time they come in the original packaging so you can’t even tell.

  44. I think, in general, nothing wrong with a refurb. But I also think with a gift for a specific hobby and a child you’re clearly very proud of, and a $50 price difference, you should just get the new one and call it a day. $50 is one less dinner/take-out for a night or 2.

  45. $50 is one less dinner/take-out for a night or 2.

    IIRC he is going to college tuition free so there should be a spare $50 rolling around.

  46. I meant the $50 price jump from when you were first planning to pull the trigger.

    Even if you can get the refurb at $90, it’s a gift for a seemingly deserving kid. Make the money up elsewhere in the budget. .

  47. We didn’t have a good experience with DS’s refurbished phone. DH was adamant about getting him a refurbished one, I let him handle the return. DS was disappointed and the whole experience of getting a great birthday gift was spoiled.

  48. I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving anyone outside my immediate family a refurb,

    Neither would I, but I also wouldn’t be giving anyone outside my immediate family a gift that was expensive enough that there is a significant savings on a refurb.

    We got DS a refurbed laptop for his birthday last month and it works fine.

  49. More good kid news that has come in since the AM: DD was admitted to IIT with a partial scholarship and an invite to compete for their big one. She is VERY happy, as they have the program she thinks she wants and she loves Chicago in general. Good chance she’ll end up there unless one of the reaches comes through, as I think it was her favorite backup.

    I’m having one of those mom moments this AM, just sort of amazed and a little choked up that The Electron has grown up so much that she has earned herself these kinds of opportunities — and will be able to manage things once she gets there, too. It’s everything you want for your kid — and boy, it seemed so impossible even 3-4 years ago.

  50. LfB, IIT is a good school. I think it is similar in size and focus to NJIT, although private. It is a school my kid would have strongly considered if it weren’t so far. Chicago is a nice city too.

  51. Laura – congrats. A big load off the mind for her whatever else happens on the admissions/scholarships fronts.

  52. @Mooshi: if she ends up there, I will have Rocky and Rube Goldberg to thank — Rocky suggested it, but DD flat-out refused to consider it until she visited Chicago last spring for the Rube Goldberg nationals and fell in love with the city. ;-)

    And for us, it’s about 1:20 on Southwest, so easily close enough to come home on long weekends and such (not that she will want to do that with the whole city at her disposal, but right now she thinks she will, which is why I think she prefers it to, say, Cal Poly).

  53. IIT is a good school with plenty of job opportunities for kids in Midwest. Its has a good engineering school. It could be in a better location though.

  54. “don’t get me started on re-using wrapping paper. That was one of my first culture shocks in my young family sojourn among the evangelical Presbyterians.”
    Lol, we grew up Catholic. My BiL’s family is evangelical, with roots in Arkansas. He was amazed his first Christmas with our family that we saved the paper. I am appalled at the waste of so many wrappings being used once and tossed. They are not recycled, because of the coatings—it all goes into the landfill. It is just stupidly wasteful. There is no way I would want to contribute to that anymore than necessary. I cut off places where the old tape made a mark and absolutely reuse the paper. But then again, I save and reuse aluminum foil too, so what would you expect?

    Mooshi, I agree with Lark, but you knew that alread. Seriously, you told us he made choices about university based on how much you agreed to fund/how much of his own money he’d have to use. This is a much smaller purchase, which might be for fun for could be used “productively” in the future. Why can’t he have the same option of using $90 of his own money? I bet he could tutor a couple high school kids over break and earn that much easily.

    Laura, tell her congrats from us! How exciting to be going off to the big city on her own. She’ll take it by storm ;)

  55. It isn’t the overall cost so much, but rather I am really pissed that they jacked up the price right before Christmas with no warning, and also, none of the other kids are getting anything like that. DD is also getting a drawing tablet but she opted for a starter model from a cheaper brand that still has really good reviews, so it cost $70. DS2’s big gift is a $100 Lego set (yep, he still does those sets). And if you don’t think they would notice, trust me, they do.

    I have more problems with the idea of asking a kid to partially fund their own gift than I do with giving a refurbished model, I guess.

  56. Can you give him an IOU and buy it in the after-Christmas sale? That’s what my family would have done.

  57. I love the parental brags here. Life requires many, many skills, and your kids have acquired some important ones. Good stuff.

  58. I have more problems with the idea of asking a kid to partially fund their own gift than I do with giving a refurbished model, I guess.

    I’m totally with you there. Apparently I’m in the minority here, but I see no reason not to get him the refurbed one.

  59. LfB, congrats to your DD!!

    DS has a friend at IIT. I haven’t talked to her or her parents since she started there, but they were all pretty excited.

    “it’s about 1:20 on Southwest, so easily close enough to come home on long weekends and such (not that she will want to do that with the whole city at her disposal”

    Or you and your family could easily go to visit her.

  60. Mooshi, I’ve bought several items refurb with generally good experiences.

    I bought a refurb Canon camera outfit for DD and a Canon camcorder. Both came looking like brand new, and other than a little note about a shorter warranty, we haven’t been able to tell that they weren’t bought brand new. DD was, and still is, delighted.

    When we decided to get DD a smartphone, we got her a refurb iPhone 6s. It had battery issues at first, but the vendor replaced the battery and it’s been fine since.

    I think for things like cameras and camcorders that don’t typically have to continuously upgrade their software, refurbs make a lot of sense. For stuff like phones and laptops, there’s more of a tradeoff as they may reach obsolescence, defined in this case as no longer being supported with software/OS, faster than new stuff.

  61. For stuff like phones and laptops, there’s more of a tradeoff as they may reach obsolescence, defined in this case as no longer being supported with software/OS, faster than new stuff.

    That’s only if the refurb is an older model. There is no difference in lifespan between buying a new iPhone X and a refurbed iPhone X, or a new laptop vs a refurbed one with the same specs.

  62. DD, you’re right, so if you can find a refurb that’s the same model as you want, especially a factory refurb (I believe the Canons I bought that were like new were factory refurbished), it’s definitely worth considering.

    But IME, most refurb phones and computers are older models, so that’s something to watch for.

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