How can we keep kids in this state?

Dr. John Miller

Dr. John Miller

One of the major issues facing South Dakota is how to keep our population growing, or at least stable, which is generally translated into the question of how to keep our young people from leaving the state.

As early as the 1880s, Dakota Territorial newspapers were full of editorials with titles like “Boys, Don’t Leave the Farm” and others urging young people to stay put and not venture outward.

Obviously, such entreaties failed, for people will always seek new and better opportunities for themselves and that will often lead them to look beyond the fence, where, to some at least, the grass looks greener.

Remember though that people in other places will be looking at our side of the fence to see if they should make the leap and come over to our side.

After graduating from high school in Monett, Missouri, I attended the University of Missouri because it was an excellent and affordable school. Had it been a crummy one, I probably would have gone out of state.

They had an excellent honors program and history professors who went on to attainments like president of the American Historical Association (after moving to the state of Washington) and executive secretary of the Organization of American Historians (in Indiana).

Mizzou gave me the tools to obtain a graduate fellowship to study at the University of Wisconsin, and, after a year of teaching in Oklahoma, I wound up as a professor at SDSU.

When my wife Kathy and I arrived in Brookings, we would ask people, “How long have you been here?” and some would reply “30 years”-or more.

We eventually discovered why they had stayed here so long. Because the school-and the town-were great places to be and it was a great place to raise our own kids.

There is a lesson in all of this.

To keep South Dakota healthy, we can’t put a leash on our young people. We need to make our educational system and our entire state attractive enough to try to keep some of our best and brightest young people from moving away, but, even more importantly, to induce people living in other states to want to move here.

Migration across state borders is a two-way proposition, and our focus needs to be as much on bringing new people in as on preventing those who are already here from moving out.

Dr. John Miller is a professor of history at SDSU. He will retire thisyear after 29 years of teaching. Write to him at [email protected].