Rural Youth Futures

As rural communities face changes in local economies, populations, and workforce needs, what does the next generation of residents and workers value and want? That question was the motivation for the Rural Youth Futures project. Researchers and extension agents from several universities joined forces with local non-profits to find out what middle and high schoolers think in two forest-dependent regions: Coos County in Oregon and Piscataquis/Northern Somerset Counties in Maine. 


School and county fact sheets

These fact sheets present the results of school surveys. The series is designed to present summary information to each participating school and county about the perceptions and aspirations of local youth. 

Project Details

Natural resource dependent communities across the United States are experiencing profound shifts in economic and demographic conditions. In many places, the forests that these rural towns were built on are facing declining industrial employment, global competition, and increased demands for the provision of non-market services from the land. Economic uncertainty and diminished local work prospects can result in declining populations or outmigration. Youth in particular may face difficult choices between remaining near family and community, or seeking education or steady employment elsewhere.

How do these local factors impact that next generation of residents and workers? Exploring that question was the foundation of the Rural Youth Futures project, which brought researchers and extension personnel from three Universities – the University of Maine, Oregon State University, and University of Oregon – together with community education non-profits and engaged stakeholders. Steering committees were convened in two rural, forest-dependent counties: Piscataquis and Northern Somerset Counties in Maine, and Coos County in Oregon. Both of these places have experienced changes in timber availability, global impacts to traditional industries, and increasing amenity uses of forest land.

Working closely with the Appalachian Mountain Club in Maine and Coos Watershed Association in Oregon, we developed an electronic survey for middle and high school students. Community stakeholders, working through the steering committees, provided valuable feedback. With school administrative cooperation and University of Maine Institutional Review Board approval, the survey was disseminated across every school in the study area counties during the 2018-2019 academic year. Participation was voluntary and anonymous.

The survey included questions designed to uncover how teens felt about their local community, their school, and their economy. We asked them what their educational aspirations were, where they want to live in the future, and how connected they were to outdoors activities. Many of the questions were based on previous research in other rural places, while some were unique to this study. Over 2,000 students across both states took the survey, with varying levels of completion.

During 2019-2020 we focused on data cleaning, analysis, and synthesis. The fact sheets presented here are a summary of survey responses for each school and county, designed to provide accessible information to parents, community members, and teachers and school administrators. Journal articles with more statistical analysis are also being prepared.

The Rural Youth Futures project was primarily funded by the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture, grant #2017-67023-26240, with additional support from the Research Reinvestment Fund and the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, both at the University of Maine. Any questions related to the project can be directed to Mindy Crandall, College of Forestry, Oregon State University: