Recently, my home county, Clay County, was named the least educated county in Alabama. Not only was it the least educated in the state, it was also ranked as one of the lowest nation wide at 3,025th of 3,142 counties. The surveys taken reported that 12.7% of the population had less than a high school education, 14% attended high school but did not receive a diploma, 33.7% were high school graduates or equivalent, 20.4% had some college education, 8.9% had an associates degree, 5.9% had a bachelor's degree, and 4.3% had a graduate or professional degree. Compare that to Shelby County who was the most educated in Alabama of which 2.5% of the population had less than a high school education, 5.5% attended high school but did not receive a diploma, 20.9% were high school graduates or equivalent, 21.7% had some college education, 7.2% had an associates degree, 27.9% had a bachelor's degree, and 14.4% had a graduate or professional degree.
This makes Clay County look like a bunch of backcountry hicks that don't know their right hand from their left, but that just isn't true. I know of several people from my hometown who have gone college to become doctors, lawyers, teachers, computer programmers, and the like. My cousin, who grew up in the same town as me, graduated from Harvard with a law degree.
Clay County could give birth to the smartest people on earth, but it would not make a difference. The reason it would not make a difference is quite simple: they can't get them to come back after they leave. That, my friends, is why small towns like Ashland in Clay County are slowly dying. The reason young people do not go back to their small hometowns is that there are no jobs there for them, especially if they are girls. In my hometown of Ashland, unless an educated woman wants to be a teacher or a nurse, there is not much else for her to do. People are not going to live in a place where they are not going to make money.
For many towns, at least for my home town anyways, one of the things that stop the creation of new jobs is because people are afraid of change. I have seen business after business start-up in Ashland that only after a few months have to close their doors because their neighbors won't support them. The people in charge claim that they want more jobs and new businesses, but if they won't support the ones that try to eke out a living or don't stop squashing them out before they can even get started, they won't ever see the growth they say they want.
I understand that they do not want to lose the charm of small-town life, and I'm not advocating to turn the town into a megacity. If they do not want to see the place turn into a ghost town, however, they have to find a way to attract young adults to move there, and that is going to have to include allowing new businesses to enter the market. Not everyone wants to work in a cabinet shop for the rest of their lives.
I love my hometown, and I want to move back to Clay County after I graduate, but I often worry about the future there. I know that there is a possibility that I will not be able to get a job if I move back, and that I will also have to leave to find work. I hope that these new statistics will help the people of Clay County see that they need to make some changes.