Many people view those living in rural America as simple folk, who probably have a limited education, let alone a need for such. While it is true that there may have traditionally been less of a need to be educated to find wellbeing outside major urban centers, that is increasingly changing.
The appeal of the heartland was that settlers could acquire land for next to nothing (often for nothing at all), and they could work the land to feed themselves and sell off a surplus of crops or livestock for some marginal profit. No college degree was required to join this program.
These settlers were hardy and hardworking, and so were their offspring. Farming seemed a challenging way of life full of great work and little reward, but it offered independence and personal enterprise. Eventually, the third and fourth generations started to encourage their children to leave the farm for better pursuits. Encouraged to go to college, these farming kids could finally do something other than toil in the countryside where it was becoming ever more challenging to make ends meet. The children could go to college and gain professional expertise which would be rewarded with higher pay, and they could work 9 to 5 instead of 24/7 on the farm.
The countryside began to empty out, and the farms consolidated to become bigger, allowing them to achieve better scales of profitability. Likewise, technology in farming improved and added to the profitability of the land. With improved technology in pest management and yield management, the value of ag land soared. Single farms became worth millions in terms of land alone, and it would take expensive sophisticated machinery to work the land too. This meant operating the farm required managing millions of dollars, and it led to greater use of contracts to hedge outputs and lock in profits to provide certainty for such large scale operations.
While farming had never been for the faint of heart, it was no longer a place for the uneducated. Several state colleges had always offered education that focused on agriculture, but now more than ever they had to focus on creating well rounded producers that could understand chemistry, engineering, and finance. Running a farm was becoming big business, and now the tides were turning. While the children of farmers were once encouraged to leave the countryside for an education that could provide them opportunities elsewhere, they were now encouraged to get an education so they could return to the farm to be better entrepreneurs.
An unforeseen consequence of bigger and more lucrative farming resulted too. The rise of agribusiness resulted in value-add production facilities like ethanol plants and enormous cooperatives to operate elevators and transportation facilities. There was even a need for larger financial institutions to accommodate both the farmers and growth of agribusiness. Soon, it wasn’t just the farmers who needed an advanced education, but anyone supporting them, selling to them, or financing them would need a college education to keep up.
In many ways, the plains are still the frontier full of hardworking people, but the people are no longer the poor farmers or uneducated country folk that they were once thought to be. And best of all, even children from the countryside may not need to go far from home to have a fulfilling career, and they might even do it working their traditional family farm.