Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ded)


Higher Education Leadership


Suzanne Estler

Second Committee Member

Elizabeth Allan

Third Committee Member

Terrence J. MacTaggart


The purpose of this study is to explore perceptions of return migration experiences and gain knowledge from rural residents who have left to obtain a college education and start careers in non-rural areas, and who then returned to their rural hometowns with the social and economic benefits of a college education, and other valuable resources. This examination of nine participants provided insights regarding return migrations and attempts to transition back to a rural culture that has been restructured by the loss of its major employer, economic decline, and population loss. The research questions attempted to identify the predominant reason people return migrate, the context in which this is decided, how the return migrants' resources such as a college education influence their transitional experience, and how return migrants' experiences can inform policies and practices that will support successful return migration. A qualitative research approach was used to gather data. Methods of data collection included participant observation, demographic surveys, interviews, focus groups, and document reviews. Nine participants were found using a multilayered selection process. A typological approach was used for data coding and analysis. Trustworthiness was ensured through dependability, authenticity, and triangulation. This study identified participant tendencies toward return migration being the result of a trigger event that when combined with a foundational predisposition toward return migration results in the act of returning. One key predisposition included having a mate from the same rural area. Financial considerations are only important in terms of supporting simple life style. Additionally, those return migrating were unprepared for the strength of the local power structure regarding change, but increasingly displayed great tenacity toward overcoming these forces through the use of personal resources such as postsecondary education, work experiences, creativity, and tenacity. All reported wanting to stay, but agreed that deteriorating social structures may result in a need to leave.