Nebraska Youth Survey finds students value safety, security in ideal communities

Nebraska youth today place high importance on safety, security, good schools and family connections compared to entertainment, shopping and recreational amenities when identifying a place to call home, according to a new survey of Greater Nebraska high school students.

In January 2020, Nebraska Community Foundation began working with the University of Nebraska-Omaha’s Center for Public Affairs Research to co-create the Nebraska Youth Survey with the purpose of exploring young people’s perceptions and perspectives of their Nebraska hometowns. More than 1,000 high school students responded to the online survey, which was administered in the Axtell, McCook, Columbus, Diller, Shickley, Ainsworth, Stuart and Norfolk communities between January and May 2020.

The survey revealed students’ expressed affinity for safe, low-crime and family-oriented places. Contrary to popular perceptions of youth, the students indicated a preference for safety and security over entertainment.

“When imagining their ideal community, student respondents sought places with good schools, low-crime rates and a connection to family,” said Josie Gatti Schafer, Ph.D., Center for Public Affairs Research. “While entertainment and recreational amenities also factored into a student’s image of their ideal community, the safety and security that small Nebraska communities offer were the primary factors.”

Nearly 40% of students placed a low crime rate as their first or second choice when prompted to rank the most important characteristics of their ideal community. Thirty-five percent of students selected good schools as either their first or second choice, and 24% placed proximity to family in one of the top two priorities. Just over 46% of student surveyed said they were extremely likely or somewhat likely to live in their hometown as adults. When asked to state the main reason they would return to live in their hometowns, 30% of students responded that it would be because they viewed their community as a good place to raise a family. The second most popular choice was the presence of family ties in the area, which 24.9% of respondents selected.

Greater Nebraska hometowns across the state already exhibit the safety and security young Nebraskans seek. The state’s crime rate is consistently lower than many others in the United States and recent Nebraska Crime Commission reports have found decreasing crime rates in Nebraska communities with fewer than 100,000 residents.

Additionally, NCF’s affiliated funds have equipped more than 250 Nebraska hometowns with the tools to provide additional amenities youth desire. For decades, volunteers across the state have worked together to unleash the abundant assets of their communities, building the capacity to create the types of places where schools thrive, neighbors collaborate toward a brighter future and families build the lives they want.

“The qualities young Nebraskans most value in a community – low crime rate, good schools, proximity to family – are characteristics Nebraska is already offering in spades,” said NCF President and CEO Jeff Yost. “Adults and local institutions should strive to make those qualities apparent by engaging our youth and offering them the opportunity to make their hometowns their own.”

The results of the Youth Survey reveal the priorities, values and desires of young Nebraskans as well as factors that may influence their decision to return to or remain in Greater Nebraska in the future. The hope is that these data may serve as a resource for Nebraska Community Foundation’s network of 1,500 community volunteers, as well as other organizations and entities that share an interest in people attraction.

Email kbelitz@nebcommfound.org if you would like to see the Nebraska Youth Survey Full Report or if your Nebraska Community Foundation affiliated fund is interested in facilitating a youth survey in your place.

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