What's Happening to the Class of '09?
What happens to rural kids after they graduate from high school?
In Coos County, New Hampshire, more than half had left the community just two years after graduation, according to a recent survey. And the overwhelming majority of those who left are going to school.
And what's the most important thing to these recent high school grads? Having a steady job and a successful career, they say. Employment is more important than college, children or living close to family.
We know about the Coos County class of 2009 because researchers at the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire have been tracking them since 2008 — asking the members of the class what they are doing and what their plans are for the future.
This survey comes two years after graduation. It finds that only 49 percent of those found are still living in Coos County, which fills the northern end of New Hampshire. Coos County has the smallest population of any county in the state (just over 33,000) — and it was the only county in New Hampshire to lose population between 2000 and 2010.
The researchers, led by Eleanor Jaffee, asked the Class of '09 where they lived. Turns out that nearly 4 out of ten lived at their parents' homes. Another 30 percent lived in dorms and 23 percent in rentals.
Emily Jaffee/Carsey Institute
Few planned to move in the next year. Nearly 9 out of ten said they plan to stay where they are.
Two-thirds of the class were attending school full time. Of those who had left Coos, 81 percent were attending school full time. These were higher percentages than what was found in a national sample of 19 and 20-year olds. (Or, researchers said, it may be that college-going kids in the Coos County sample were easier to find and more likely to respond to inquiries.)
The economy was clearly important to these recent high school graduates. Unemployment rates in Coos County have been rising, reaching 7.4 percent in June of this year. So while 67 percent of the Class of '09 said it was easy to find a job in 2009, only 19 percent said it was easy for people their age to find a job in Coos County in 2011. Sixteen percent of those surveyed said that at least one parent had been fired or laid off from work in the last year.
Emily Jaffee/Carsey Institute
Coos County young people said almost unanimously (84 percent) that natural beauty in the county had remained the same or gotten better, but two-thirds of the group said job opportunities were getting worse.
By far the most important thing for these recent high school graduates was finding a solid job or career. Nine out of ten said this was of "high importance." Only a third (36 percent) said living close to family was of "high importance."
Significantly, 76 percent said leaving Coos County was of high or moderate importance.
"These data suggest that participants may have conflicting objectives, but most prioritize finding stable work over other concerns at this stage in their lives," writes Jaffee.