Family and Community Influences on Educational Outcomes Among Appalachian Youth

This study was based upon a 2006 longitudinal study (the Great Smoky Mountains Study) and a survey of youth (the Life Trajectory Interview for Youth), both conducted in Appalachia. Although area effects have been documented in urban settings—that is, the effects of neighborhood and community, poverty and other structural limitations on life history—little work has been done on whether these same effects can be seen in low-population density rural settings. This study examined area effects and childhood family environment to see how they impacted educational goals and achievement for 200 Caucasian rural youth in Appalachia.

Results showed that community context played a more important role for educational goal setting than for educational goal attainment. For example, 44 percent of males living in census tracts with the highest numbers of college-educated adults stated that getting a college degree was an important life goal, whereas only 16 percent of males living in census tracts with the fewest college-educated adults said that getting a college degree was an important life goal. However, unlike several similar studies done in urban areas, this effect did not hold in terms of adults actually obtaining college degrees. The authors suggest that perhaps targeting families to increase support for achieving educational goals would be beneficial, since the effects of community on educational attainment were not significant.

This study has several limitations, including small sample size. Also, Appalachian culture is specific to a certain geographical region, and is subject to specific economic and cultural influences. Thus, these results are not necessarily generalizable to other U.S. rural areas. Future research on area effects and community effects on educational attainment in this population are necessary, and may help rural youth find motivation and support to pursue and develop their educational goals.