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Social Capital and Residential Decision Making Among Rural and Nonrural College Graduates

Sociological Forum

Published online on


--- - |2 Due to the low demand for highly educated workers in rural areas, high‐achieving rural students have been portrayed as having to pick between staying close to home and facing limited economic opportunities or leaving to pursue higher education and socioeconomic advancement. But what of those who want both—college degree and return to rural living? Comparing the experiences of rural graduates who returned to rural locales with those who out‐migrated and nonrural graduates across one predominantly rural state, this study explores how social capital matters in the residential decision‐making process. Proximity to work and family were the primary factors determining adult residence. Sense of place—but not attachment to a specific community—also mattered, especially for rural graduates. Family, school, and community social capital were more likely to play a role in career development for rural students, as career aspirations during adolescence followed by career‐driven college choices created pathways for rural return. Findings underscore the importance of analyzing rural return from a regional lens, as respondents reframed lifestyle elements researchers tend to portray as mutually exclusive—rural lifestyle, proximity to family, and professional career—as compatible by employing broad and flexible definitions of proximity and place. - 'Sociological Forum, EarlyView. '