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When a Degree Doesn’t Equal a ‘Good Job.’ Appalachian Youth Rethinking College

Heightened generational and cultural divides are increasingly apparent throughout Appalachia as rural students navigate the path to higher education. College has shifted from presenting a lure of opportunity to one of uncertainty and risk.

To tell community members in a small Appalachian town to pull themselves up by their bootstraps economically in an age when manual labor is becoming less and less crucial is to acknowledge that “good jobs” are disappearing—and often require a college degree. Meanwhile insisting college is the only path to economic opportunity runs the risk of invalidating the experience of generations of families working honest jobs back home.

Families face conflicting choices at the end of high school; Do we encourage our kids to stay, to help out however they can the way we have for generations — or do we send them away to learn new skills, running the risk they might not have a home to return to?