Here’s an interesting story by Bill Bishop and Robert Gallardo sent to the East Oregonian about Umatilla County residents with college degrees:

Umatilla County has experienced a brain gain in the last 40 years, joining the rest of the country in what has been a massive increase in the number of adults who have earned college degrees,.

In 1970, 8.8 percent of those over 25 years of age had college degrees in Umatilla County. By 2010, 14.6 percent of adults here had completed college.

The percentage of adults with college degrees in Umatilla County was less than the national average of 27.9 percent in 2010. The college-educated rate here was less than the Oregon average of 28.6 percent.

The number of adults in the United States with college degrees has nearly tripled since 1970, when only 10.7 percent of adults had graduated from college. But the percentage of adults with degrees in counties with small cities, such as Umatilla County, while increasing, has generally fallen behind the proportion of college-educated residents in urban counties.

The loss of young, well-educated residents has posed a long-standing difficulty for rural communities.

“One of the problems that rural areas face is that in order to get a college education, young people often have to leave,” Judith Stallmann, an economist at the University of Missouri, said. “Once you leave, that introduces you to other opportunities that you might not have seen had you not left.”

The good news for rural America is that it has caught up in every other measure of education.

In 1970, 7.8 percent of adults in rural counties had some education after high school, but less than a college degree. By 2010, 27.4 percent of rural adults had attained some post-high school education without earning a college diploma. That level of education was close to the national average of 28.1 percent.

In Umatilla County, 13.7 percent of adults had some college in 1970, rising to 35.8 percent in 2010. The Oregon average in 2010 was 34.3 percent. Umatilla County had 25,388 adults (those over 25 years of age) in 1970 and 47,883 adults in 2010.

Overall, Stallmann says, the trends show that “rural people have responded to the demand for increased job skills by the increasing their post-secondary education.”

Only 18.8 percent of the adult population in Umatilla County had failed to graduate from high school in 2010. Nationally 15 percent of adults had not completed high school; in Oregon, the rate was 11.4 percent.

The problem of keeping college graduates in rural America is a national issue and one that is also enduring.

Stallmann said this is a reflection of the kinds of jobs that are generally available in rural communities. If there are fewer jobs demanding college degrees in a community, there are likely to be fewer college graduates.

Nationally, rural counties and counties with small cities have caught up with urban counties in the percentage of adults who have-some post high school education. Stallmann sees this as a sign that “there are perhaps more jobs in rural areas that require post-secondary education but not college.”

“Rural communities may need to think about the types of jobs” being created, Stallmann said. “There are some communities that are doing things like getting local businesses to put an emphasis on hiring local kids who got a college education.”

Bill Bishop is co-editor of the Daily Yonder (, an online news publication covering rural America that is published by the Center for Rural Strategies. The Center for Rural Strategies ( is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote healthy civic discourse about rural issues. Roberto Gallardo is an assistant extension professor at the Southern Rural Development Center at Mississippi State University, ( The raw information is available at:

— Skip Nichols

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