October 2018 // Volume 56 // Number 6 // Commentary // v56-6comm1
Commentaries conform to JOE submission standards and provide an opportunity for Extension professionals to exchange perspectives and ideas.
Addressing Declining Rural Communities Through Youth Entrepreneurship Education
Population decline, outmigration of youths, and dwindling job prospects have challenged the vitality of rural economies in the United States for decades. Previous rural youth programs have been criticized for failing to address the social underpinnings of flight, attend to the unique features of rural contexts, and encourage youths to develop a sense of connection to opportunities within their local communities. This article provides recommendations for Extension personnel on rural youth entrepreneurship education. Recommendations relate to gaps in entrepreneurship programs in rural communities, a focus on technology and innovation, and 4-H as an ideal setting for experiential entrepreneurship education.
Rural communities have experienced decreasing populations since the 1990s (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017), resulting in a situation that has serious and extensive consequences for communities. Local businesses in diminishing rural communities often become less sustainable, and a reduced population translates to a lower tax base and the community's inability to maintain basic services (e.g., health care, schools). These declines result in a lower quality of life for rural residents and particularly affect rural youths. Rural youths, specifically those with the highest potential productivity (as demonstrated by, for example, high academic achievement or high educational aspirations), are more likely to leave their rural communities permanently for better educational and economic opportunities in more urbanized locations (Carr & Kefalas, 2009; Demi, McLaughlin, & Snyder, 2009). Although researchers and educators have expressed concern about this issue, few strategies that address both economic-related and social-related antecedents have been implemented. Previous interventions have focused solely on economic factors, such as job creation and workforce preparation (von Reichart, Cromartie, & Arthun, 2011). In this article, we present evidence-based recommendations for Extension personnel for providing youths with entrepreneurship education and fostering connections between youths and local communities to assist in addressing the deterioration of rural communities.
Opportunities for Extension-Led Rural Youth Entrepreneurship Education
Reducing the deterioration of rural communities must entail introducing innovative approaches for improving economic opportunities for rural community members and encouraging youths to stay in or return to the communities in which they grow up. Extension-led entrepreneurship education for rural youths can address these goals and involves filling programming gaps in rural communities; focusing on prospects related to science, technology, and other innovative realms; and capitalizing on 4-H as a vehicle for delivering such education.
Gaps in Entrepreneurship Programming in Rural Communities
Many rural youths must evaluate career and educational goals within the context of a desire to be near their families and the communities in which they are raised (Howley, 2006). Youths who want to remain in or return to rural communities often reduce their educational and career goals because they do not perceive further education and skills as relevant to available opportunities in their rural communities (Howley, 2006; Jamieson, 2000). This circumstance underscores the critical role of entrepreneurship as a potential solution to economic vitality and population retention (Kane, 2010).
Although there is growing engagement in entrepreneurship education for rural youths, two predominant gaps still exist. First, most existing vocational and entrepreneurial training programs were designed for urban communities and have not been adapted to rural contexts. Education should be made relevant to rural contexts so that youths understand how advanced skills and training can open up opportunities in their own communities, not just in urban centers (Howley, 2006). Attending to rural contexts ensures that vocational training and educational goals are not inconsistent with the desire to remain in rural communities. Paul and Seward (2016) suggested that when programs are made relevant to local rural contexts, educational experiences become investments in youths and their communities rather than further impetus for young people's departures. Additionally, the existing urban-focused programs may be hampered by a lack of involved entrepreneurs who can serve as role models for youths in rural areas. Second, few programs engage youths in ways that take advantage of not only their potential for personal development but also their potential as agents of change in their communities. That is, few rural youth entrepreneurship programs connect problem solving, citizenship, communication, and decision making to the act of solving actual problems in a community. Incorporating a high level of community engagement into rural youth entrepreneurship programs may help foster a better sense of attachment to community among youths and enhance their willingness to remain or return.
Innovative Skills and the Rural Context
A focus on science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) endeavors may increase the sustainability of rural businesses as the U.S. economy will increasingly be driven by the innovation of technology (Fayer, Lacey, & Watson, 2017). Given the aforementioned challenges of addressing rural contexts with regard to entrepreneurship, STEAM opportunities may represent a promising direction for rural youth entrepreneurship education. Kourilsky and Walstad (2002) argued that students need mentors from the technology industry. Offering students opportunities to explore technology during their education would lay the foundation for entrepreneurship in the high-tech sector. Consistent with our argument that youth programs need to be relevant to local contexts, there is increasing recognition that STEAM education also needs to be pertinent to rural contexts (e.g., Semken & Freeman, 2008). Place-based STEAM education, particularly in rural areas, can enhance learning as it builds on prior knowledge and personal connections, helps program implementers use local resources and opportunities to facilitate educational efforts, and helps students develop STEAM-based ideas to solve local issues and make connections between their skills/education and local employment (Avery, 2013; Nadelson, Seifert, & McKinney, 2014).
4-H as a Venue for Place-Based and Experiential Entrepreneurial Learning
4-H prepares youths for successful futures with a strong emphasis on the development of life skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving, social skills, citizenship, and leadership (National Institute of Food and Agriculture, 2016). These skills are fostered through educational programming grounded in the experiential learning model. The experiential learning approach is an especially meaningful element in entrepreneurship education as entrepreneurs learn by solving problems, experimenting, replicating efforts, and making mistakes (Gibb, 1997; Rae, 2000). Pittaway and Cope (2007) argued that it is not possible to teach the intricacies of entrepreneurship to youths through lecture alone. For students to gain entrepreneurial competence, they should learn by experiencing (Holman, 2000) and should interact with local businesses in order to learn authentic work practices and gain experience (Brown & Duguid, 1991; Scorsone, 2003). Additionally, experiential learning includes reflection and evaluation of one's experience (both individually and collaboratively), which helps youths develop and increase their understanding (Andresen, Boud, & Cohen, 2001; Meyer & Jones, 2015).
Recommendations for Place-Based, STEAM-Focused, Experiential Youth Entrepreneurship Education
Place-based education. Extension professionals should deliver entrepreneurship education programs that connect youths to entrepreneurs in their own communities. Youth programs and educational opportunities also should be made relevant to the local context so that youths are able to connect higher level skills, education, and job prospects to the communities in which they are situated. For example, encouraging youths to solve challenges faced by local entrepreneurs and highlighting local entrepreneurs are good methods for establishing an environment that recognizes entrepreneurship as a career option and an economic development strategy (Henderson, 2002).
STEAM education. It is important for Extension professionals to place emphasis on exploration of STEAM endeavors as part of any youth entrepreneurship education. For example, Extension professionals can invite technology industry personnel to have involvement in youth entrepreneurship programming to help youths to generate STEAM-based ideas, develop knowledge and skills in the areas of STEAM, and build personal connections with mentors.
Experiential education. Experiential and hands-on work is a beneficial component of youth entrepreneurship learning as youths gain entrepreneurial experience by being involved in relevant processes (Holman, 2000). Extension professionals can partner with community organizations such as nonprofit and government organizations to offer experiential training programs in which youths develop necessary entrepreneurial skills by addressing real-life examples and actual cases. Another effective way to incorporate experiential learning into entrepreneurship education is through prototyping. Developing prototypes helps youths examine whether their ideas are feasible and identify potential challenges they may not have thought about previously. Developing prototypes also help youths describe their ideas more effectively (Bergsteiner, Avery, & Neumann, 2010).
Rural entrepreneurship education for youths can play an important role in developing skill sets around job readiness and rural retention (e.g., Howley, 2006) in addition to helping youths achieve various other outcomes critical to their positive development (e.g., self-efficacy, problem-solving skills, academic success, leadership) (Bronte-Tinkew & Redd, 2001). We encourage Extension professionals to implement youth entrepreneurship programs in their rural communities to ensure the well-being of rural youths, reduce the migration of youths from rural communities, and, ultimately, sustain rural communities.
Sarah Taylor is now an assistant professor of child development and family studies at California State University, Long Beach.
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