The rate of college attainment in rural America is just a little over half that of urban and suburban areas, reports The Wall Street Journal, citing Census data in a story Tuesday on the heartland’s ongoing brain drain. While reports abound of educated millennials deserting Southern and Midwestern homes for coastal metropolises, college graduates often transplant themselves to regional capitals just a short distance away, remaining in red states but leaving their small towns behind.

Many young people in rural communities now see college not so much as a door to opportunity as a ticket out of Nowheresville

Interviewing parents and employers in tiny Mahaska County, Iowa, the paper found many complaining of limited economic opportunities and cultural attractions to attract young professionals, especially compared with the allure of Iowa City and Des Moines. Once they collect their degrees, most stick in their college towns or move on to still-larger urban centers.

Figures at the county level are easy to miss, but across a few decades and thousands of miles of highway, they become inescapable. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, 759 rural counties lost inhabitants between 1994 and 2010; that period marked an economic boom compared with the years that followed, when an astonishing 1,300 such counties in 46 states saw their populations dwindle. Seventy percent of manufacturing-dominated counties shrunk in size following the recession and credit crunch of 2008, according to the Brookings Institution.

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Kevin is an Editorial Fellow of The 74.