In Focus: Combating Poverty through Education

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The importance of a quality education is stressed everywhere, but what happens when economic conditions in an area aren’t up to par? This is the problem in southeast Ohio, situated in the heart of Appalachia. 

Just like schools across the state of Ohio, four years of high school in Appalachia doesn’t necessarily lead to four years of college. But four years of schooling at a college or university isn’t the only option for high school graduates.

How many go to College?

Today, any post-secondary education out of high school is valuable says Michael Shoemaker, Executive Director of the Coalition for Rural and Appalachian Schools.  In many southeastern Ohio counties, the number of residents aged 25 or older with bachelor’s degrees is lower than the state average of 24.1%. 

  • MorganCounty: 8.7%
  • Perry County: 8.9%
  • Noble County: 9.1%
  • Monroe County: 9.2%
  • Vinton County: 9.2%
  • Hocking County: 10.2%
  • Meigs County: 10.3%
  • Guernsey County: 11.2%
  • Pike County: 12.6%
  • Scioto County: 12.7%
  • Lawrence County: 12.9%
  • Ross County: 13.1%
  • Pickaway County: 13.5%
  • Belmont County: 14.1%
  • Muskingum County: 14.2%
  • Gallia County: 14.3%
  • Washington County: 16%
  • Athens County: 27.3%

Ohio Board of Education Representative Michael Collins believes one of the reasons for this disparity is the perception high school students get from adults in the region who didn’t go to college.

When you add the differentials in terms of the number adults and parents who have completed high school, have a two year degree, have a four year degree, etc, post-secondary experiences and you see those numbers, that does have an impact on youngsters’ perception of what is needed to carry on and to move as they grow up to even place themselves in a more economically-beneficial situation than where they came from,” he says.  

Alternative Options After High School

The mission statement for the Meigs Local School District according to Principal Steve Ohlinger is “to have a student prepared for the outside world, whatever it may be. It could be work force, it could be post-secondary education, college, whatever comes after high school to prepare them to be problem solvers and to be able to use the technology that is available at this time.”

School officials in Appalachia recognize college is not the answer for every student, so they put forth alternative options to students – choices ranging from a comprehensive high school, to the military, to programs at the local Job and Family Services office. 

The Comprehensive School Reform Program began in 1998, was signed into law in 2002, and has been an important part of the No Child Left Behind Act. Comprehensive high schools specialize in preparing students for a university experience and offer vocational instruction. 

According to Ohlinger, Meigs High School in Pomeroy offers classes such as welding, cosmetology, and auto to help students their training for the work force.

“We have the opportunity, not only can we prepare students for post secondary,” he says. “We can also prepare them for the work life that may come after high school as well.”

For students in Athens, Perry, and Hocking Counties, where there are no comprehensive high schools, Tri-County Career Center offers 17 programs to get students job-ready. Tri-County Career Center works closely with Hocking College in Athens County to offer a four-year college Tech Program that involves two years of high school and two years of college. 

For non-high school students, the Tri-County Adult Career Center says that it “promotes workforce development and economic growth by preparing those we train for employment, career enhancement and ultimately better futures.”


Just like any other high school, the military is an option here in Appalachia for students. High school students can enroll in ROTC, or they can attend basic training to become a soldier. 

ROTC involves attending a four year college, but students can choose to enlist in basic training. ROTC offers scholarships to students who choose that path, which may help those looking to go to a college or university but can’t afford it. 

Vinton County School District Superintendent John Simmons stresses that in Vinton County, many young people take part in the military option.

“And with that and many of the GI bills, we have past students in high leadership positions now that have taken that path. So we try to show them that there are all kinds of ways to do it,” he says.  

Job and Family Services

For those adults wanting to go back and get training for a career, Ohio Job and Family Services offers education and training to Ohioans who want to pursue that option. In Athens County, Job and Family Services offers programs such as Adult Basic & Literacy Education and Work Experience Programs to help individuals acquire training and skill development. 

Athens County resident Heather Irwin went through Job and Family Services for training after her daughter was born.

“And when I turned into an adult and I had my child, I decided I wanted to better myself, so I was able to come here and they have the programs that you can,” Irwin says. “They help pay for tuition, where you can go and be a medical assistant or patient care technician. And I went to the patient care technician program, which was just six months and actually I learned a lot more then because I more willing to actually learn and it was really interesting to me.”

Whatever option an individual chooses, there are countless routes to explore for education after high school.  

Education Options

If you or someone you know wishes to pursue an alternative form of education, here are some resources and links for options. 

Tri County Adult Career Center
15676 State Route 691
Nelsonville, OH 45764
(740) 753 – 5465

Belmont College
120 Fox-Shannon Place
St. Clairsville, OH 43950
(740) 695 – 9500

Ohio Department of Job and Family Services
30 East Broad Street
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 466 – 2100