Greater Nebraska youth are increasingly embracing their hometowns and seeking ways to contribute to their shared future, according to Nebraska Community Foundation’s recently released 2021 Nebraska Youth Survey.
Nebraska Community Foundation (NCF), in partnership with the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Center for Public Affairs Research (CPAR) and local school districts, surveyed 1,047 middle and high school students between January and May of 2021. Participating communities included Albion, Bassett, Bruning, Burwell, Byron, Cedar Rapids, Chester, Davenport, Deshler, Grant, Hebron, O’Neill, Sidney, St. Edward, Stuart, Taylor and surrounding areas.
Students’ dream communities look a lot like where they live now. Sixty-four percent said their ideal community is small, like their hometown—a significant increase from 47% in 2020. When asked whether a stigma accompanied staying in or returning to their community, 76% said no—up from 70% last year.
“When we began this survey, one of our central interests was uncovering the extent to which there was a stigma associated with living in small towns in Nebraska and why,” said CPAR’s Josie Gatti Schafer, Ph.D. “After two years of conducting the survey, the results are clear—most student respondents do not feel a stigma exists about living in the place they live now. The trend is also positive.”
Like last year, students placed considerable importance on safety, ranking it at the top of a list of important factors when imagining their ideal community. Fortunately, more than 90% of respondents said they feel safe in their hometowns, and other answers indicate they value others’ safety as well. Almost 80% said they were likely to act to stop unfair treatment of others, and 61% said they were likely to be an advocate for embracing diversity and inclusion in their communities. As one respondent wrote, they seek to “make sure everyone is treated like a human should be treated.”
Greater Nebraska youth are also community-oriented—and busy. They balance sports, jobs, volunteering and club activities all while attending school – 87% have jobs in their community, and 84% are involved in school activities like sports or choir. Young Nebraskans are also active in bettering their places, with 71% saying they join others in their town to do something positive for their community at least once a year. Despite these high levels of engagement, only 25% of respondents said they feel they play a role in their community—down from 49% in 2020. These students are involved and want to play a part in shaping their community—adults must continue inviting them to share their voices.
“Our youth seek a place to call their own, and the conditions are ripe for them to stake their claim in Greater Nebraska,” said NCF President and CEO Jeff Yost. “Nebraskans have long known our local quality-of-life offerings can rival those of just about any other state. Last year proved thousands of jobs can now be done from anywhere in the world, why not right here in Nebraska?”
The results of the Nebraska Youth Survey reveal the priorities, values and desires of youth in our state as well as factors that may influence their decision to return to or remain in Greater Nebraska in the future. The traits they seek in a community—safety, good schools and proximity to family—are abundant in Greater Nebraska, and the work put in today can make communities even more appealing in the future.