Montana State University Extension Launches Survey to Understand Montana’s “Brain Gain”

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Summary: MSU is launching a survey that will help local leaders understand who is moving into our communities, why are they choosing these places and what they need to stay.


BOZEMAN —Migration of young adults out of rural communities for college or jobs in larger communities is shown in the U.S. Census data. In contrast, the Census also reflects a trend of in-migration of people aged 30-49 to rural counties. A new survey launching in late April by Montana State University and MSU Extension will gather data about who is moving into Montana communities, where they are coming from and why they are moving.

New community residents in their 30’s and 40’s have been called the “Brain Gain” by Ben Winchester of University of Minnesota Extension, because they have been found to bring valuable education, work experience, spending power and children for the schools. The MSU study will reveal more information about movers to Montana communities and how they compare to movers to communities in the Midwest.

Newcomers are an essential element to rural community vitality. They offset or exceed the numbers of young people who move away. They help sustain our essential workforce, school enrollment and businesses. Knowing more about them will help local leaders make decisions that will help keep newcomers in our communities,” says Tara Mastel, principal investigator on the study and Program Leader for Community Development at MSU Extension.

The idea for the study came out of community discussions held during the recent MSU Extension Reimagining Rural program, which brought positive messages about rural vitality to 24 rural communities across Montana. “Participants learned that newcomers chose their community for the qualities it has right now, not for what it used to be, which was surprising for many to hear,” said Mastel.

We are very interested to learn how many moves were motivated by the COVID-19 pandemic, how many are bringing their jobs with them, how many have kids and how welcomed newcomers felt in their new community,” says Dr. Eric Austin, co-principal investigator and professor in the Political Science Department at MSU.

The survey will be sent out across Montana in late-April via the mail to people who have moved in the last five years. Findings will be shared through MSU Extension, in news releases and through academic publications late summer and early fall of 2021. The study is being conducted by Mastel, Austin, Dr. Sarah Schmitt-Wilson from the MSU Department of Education and Sabre Moore, Researcher and Executive Director of the Carter County Museum.

Support for this study comes from lead sponsor, Montana Community Foundation and the Montana Farm Bureau Foundation.

For more information, Contact: Tara Mastel, MSU Extension community development program leader, [email protected] or 406-490-4180

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