Indiana State University Newsroom

Rural educators concerned about population loss

June 26, 2012

Rural Urban Entrepreneurship Development Institute shares survey results

High school principals across rural Indiana are concerned about declining populations and a potential shortage of future community leaders.

One-half of educators responding to an Indiana State University survey indicated they are interested in new programs to develop future leaders and entrepreneurs. However, they cited such factors as a lack of financial resources and staff availability as barriers to implementing such programming, said Steven Pontius, professor of geography and director of Indiana State's newly launched Rural-Urban Entrepreneurship Development Institute (RUEDI).

RUEDI surveyed principals in 181 school districts in 74 rural counties during the 2011-12 school year. The survey asked participants to rate their concern level regarding significant population levels to assure community viability, development of new business and industry and finding people to take community leadership roles. Respondents ranked each area as being "very important" or of "crucial concern," Pontius said.

More than half (53 percent) of the school districts surveyed reported enrollment declines in the past 10 years, a development consistent with census data showing 52 percent of Indiana's rural counties experiencing an overall loss of population during the past two decades, Pontius noted.

"We found a correlation between administrators' perception of the importance of identifying future leaders with the number of leadership/entrepreneurship programs available at each school," he said. "The number of available programs also correlated to the proportion of students going on to postsecondary education. In other words, the higher the administrators' perception, the more programs were available and the more programs were available, the higher the educational aspiration of students."

About 90 percent of respondents said at least one leadership/entrepreneurship program is available to students. However, many programs are extra-curricular and impact only a small percentage of students, Pontius said.

However, more than one-third of responding schools have programs that incorporate leadership into established classes. Examples include an economics class that allows students to create their own businesses, leadership training courses, professional internships, business development courses and agricultural fundamentals courses.Athletic teams and academic clubs also offer leadership and entrepreneurship development opportunities for students. Responding schools reported an average of 8.7 academic clubs/organizations involving about one-third of the student body while an average of eight male and eight female athletic teams engage 27 percent of male students and 23 percent of females.

Pontius said potential new areas of interest that might expand the number of students served include job shadowing, daily leadership sessions, partnerships with businesses and the military and offering associate degrees in entrepreneurship or business in high schools

"RUEDI intends to use information gathered from this survey to assist schools in reducing barriers to implementation of leadership/entrepreneurship programs," Pontius said.

Toward that end, the institute will:

• Provide a clearinghouse of current innovative programs

• Develop high quality interdisciplinary entrepreneurial education materials

• Create a network of teacher and student mentors to promote entrepreneurship education and identify funding sources.

Launched in January, RUEDI is an initiative of Indiana State's strategic plan, "The Pathway to Success," which includes a commitment to strengthen economic development in rural Indiana, and the university's "Unbounded Possibilities" program.RUEDI's primary objective is to increase new business start-ups in rural Indiana by focusing on four strategic activities:

• Provide entrepreneur training and exposure to K-12 students in rural public schools

• Provide a new rural entrepreneurship undergraduate major and minor at Indiana State

• Improve information and support services to rural small businesses

• Broaden the market for locally produced agricultural markets by forming regional producer-consumer food cooperatives and networks.


Contact: Steven Pontius, professor of geography and director, Rural-Urban Entrepreneurship Development Institute (RUEDI), Indiana State University, 812-237-2262 or