From The Idaho Statesman
Paul Lewin and Willem Braak
When we discuss education in the context of economic growth, we mostly think of education as a preparation for the job market: learning skills and knowledge to benefit our productivity in the workplace. The last few decades have made economists increasingly aware that “human capital,” the stock of knowledge and creative skills, is not only crucial to individual prosperity, but has much broader benefits for society.
These benefits are more indirect, and can range from better health and lower crime to the ability for a region to recover from economic downturns. Education, in short, helps families and towns achieve greater and lasting prosperity.
Most studies on the broader economic gains from education focus on metro regions. For a recent report funded by Idaho’s J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, we explore the role of human capital and its social returns in rural economies, and how formal education contributes to the well-being of communities.
First, we found that, with the increase in school and graduate education of the labor force over the last 45 years, the gap between rural and metro decreased for adults with a high school diploma, but increased for adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Nationwide, 28 percent of adults age 25 and older earned a bachelor’s degree; in rural counties this percentage is well below this average. The geographic distribution of high school dropouts across the nation is also far from even: Individuals without a high school diploma are particularly prevalent in rural counties in the South and in Nevada and Alaska.