Rural communities have long been facing the twin problems of ‘brain-drain’ and lack of economic innovation and consistent stimulus. If residents of small towns aren’t given the opportunity to study and prepare for a career in engineering, healthcare, or social work, how are they supposed to pursue such careers?

Luckily, prospects have new-found potential to expand and improve—due, in large part, to expanded opportunities by way of the Internet.

Both flex-work and online education are expanding opportunities for residents of towns with a population smaller than roughly 10,000 residents. As a result, some places are even experiencing what has come to be called “brain-drainbrain-drain”—that is, a surge in new residents fleeing big cities for a more simple, straightforward, and affordable way of life.

Part of the reason for this is the continuing rise of real estate prices, which in many big cities has become untenable for many—even those considered by most to be “affluent.” You can see this happening in places like the Bay Area and New York City.

Because of unrealistic living standards, many are fleeing big cities for smaller towns in order to be able to afford a reasonably sized house, and sometimes even a bit of land for agricultural or privacy purposes.

Here are a few ways this trend is playing out, to the benefit of all parties involved.

Long-Distance Learning

Because of a lack of resources, coupled with a shortage of qualified professors willing to uproot to rural areas, some community colleges are beginning to rely on either fully or partially-online classes.

Wylie Wong explains how this looks, in practice. For example, Forrest College in Anderson, South Carolina, enrolls many students who live in rural areas—some as far as an hour away. Because of distance-learning, these students now have the option of Skyping-in and watching lectures live, rather than missing class. They can also have the option of watching filmed lectures at a later date.

Another scenario is having faculty members located in city centers teach remotely from the main campus to students at university satellite campuses. Students may have lab assistants or other instructors in class to assist them with hands-on application of problem sets or discussions, but lecture components and course structure would be directed by the lead professor or faculty member.

One major factor in the push toward online education options is the changing profile of a typical student. Many working professionals decide to pursue continuing education or develop entirely new skills, based on workplace or industry demand. In some cases, employers provide tuition reimbursement for academic progress toward degrees or certifications that directly benefit their organization.

Because the perfect program isn’t necessarily accessible in brick-and-mortar form, online programs are filling a dire need for many rural residents. Moreover, online access via broadband is becoming more accessible in rural areas, alleviating the major hurdle separating small towns from the outside world.

Flexible Job Positions

It used to be considered the norm for bright high school students from small towns to graduate from their high schools or colleges and move to a major city or metropolitan area, but today, many of those transplants are returning to their roots. This is partly due to the economy and factors like student loan debt and rising housing costs. When paired with other stressors of city living, many professionals are opting for a lower cost of living paired with a simpler way of life.

According to Fast Company, “while 35% of freelancers live in cities…47% live in the suburbs…and a not inconsiderable 18% live in rural areas.”.

It’s not just freelancers who are moving to the country, however: remote work and flexible schedules, are making work-life balance more attainable for many, and there also seems to have been a shift in priorities for many: almost a back-to-the-land resurgence that values small farm-to-table food production, a sort of back-to-basics approach to everyday life that invariably goes missing as a consumer unconnected to one’s sources of livelihood.

Moreover, careers such as social work and medicine are more clearly drawing the connections between the benefits of minimizing ‘brain drain’ via careers and academic preparation that work in conjunction with each other. U.S. News and World Report quotes David Luoma in noting that “Studies show that one of the biggest predictors of [practicing in] a small town is coming from one… One of the biggest predictors was the size of your high school graduating class.”

Another huge argument for flexible working arrangement is the possibility of healthcare and social workers operating at satellite clinics and university hospitals with rural branches. Similarly, telemedicine—similar to online education—allows patients to meet with doctors and social workers remotely, widening the possibilities for rural residents’ access to healthcare and medical treatment.

With over 80 percent of U.S. companies offering flexible work options to employees, it can only benefit employers’ options to widen their perspective nets and allow for remote work options.


Do you live in a remote area of the country?

What do you think of newer online options for education and career professionals? 

Written By
Daphne Stanford is a DJ for Radio Boise. She writes poetry, nonfiction, and lyric essays. Other ways she enjoys spending her time include hiking, piano, singing at inappropriate times, and good conversation with friends & family. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook