Updated: Feb 22, 2020
Since 1960, West Virginia has seen a general decline in population. As one of the states with the oldest population, and with the number of deaths outweighing the number of births, the future of West Virginia is uncertain. Over the past twenty years, researchers have noticed that those leaving our state are causing a “brain drain” of sorts. Meaning the individuals that are more educated or more highly skilled are seeking and taking opportunities outside our state compared to the individuals remaining in West Virginia.
How do we turn this trend around and retain our own highly skilled and educated individuals?
“Place Attachment” is a notion where an individual is tied to a certain place due to the social and familial connections they have with that location. “Home” is an essential part of a person’s identity. Factors in helping an individual plant roots include nostalgia for the place they live, the contribution they feel they have in the place they live, and the perceived social benefits they derive.
In 2015, the World Population Review noted that there have been a few counties seeing population growth. The publication noted that “[t]he highest rate was observed in Monongalia County” and further noted that this increase was mainly due to people migrating to the area, but these population gains are also the group to have the least attachment to the state and culture of West Virginia, suggesting these gains may be tenuous.
We can help foster these deep roots in future generations at our public schools in Monongalia County and throughout West Virginia. Let's examine two current West Virginia programs that are succeeding in keeping students here and graduating successfully from college.
(1) Adventure West Virginia is a group that offers "wilderness-based" opportunities to help students adjust to college life at WVU. This program helps students create connections and memories to locations in West Virginia. Research has shown those who participated in this program were much more likely to stay and graduate from WVU within six years. (According to the West Virginia Adventure Assessment created by Jessica Michael and Vicky Morris-Dueer)
(2) Health Sciences and Technology Academy (HSTA) is a program offers mentoring services to underrepresented high school students. Students are required to participate in research projects looking at issues faced by their community. With the help of community mentors, they present and even publish their project findings each year. Of these participants, 89% graduate from college. More astoundingly is that 84% of these graduates stay in West Virginia to work.
So how is West Virginia Academy going to help reverse the "brain drain"?
Based on the models of these and similar programs, West Virginia Academy plans to implement the West Virginia Academy Ambassador program. Each year our students will be required to complete activities in four areas: Social, Environmental, Cultural, and Entrepreneurial. Our aim is to foster "deep roots" among our students in West Virginia by establishing positive learning experiences that connects them to their home state.