Population decline in rural areas is often attributed to the outmigration of young people, particularly those with high educational and occupational aspirations. This study investigates the perceptions of community and place and the migration intentions of rural at-risk youth, an often-overlooked population in community development efforts. Thematic analysis of more than 60 photoliteracy projects and 23 interviews with young people identified as low-income and at-risk resulted in the identification of two major themes: the rural context and migration intentions. Findings support that limited educational and occupational opportunities contribute to participants’ intentions to migrate away from their home communities after high-school graduation. However, strong community attachments were key influences for participants who indicated a desire to remain in or return to their hometowns. Recommendations for community leaders and teachers to build upon youths’ community attachments to stem rural out-migration and motivate at-risk students are discussed.

Publication Date