Battling Declining Enrolment in the Upper Midwestern United States: Rural Schools in a Competitive Society


  • Jennifer L. Seelig University of Wisconsin-Madison



school climate, neoliberalism, educational marketplace, rural


This paper examines the effects of declining student enrolment and population loss on one rural school district in the United States, as well as the district’s strategies to mitigate these effects. In the state of Wisconsin, the relationship between student enrolment and school funding destabilises rural school districts experiencing population decline and forces them to depend on local property taxes to make up the difference. In order to achieve community financial and political support, the school district in Forest Lake, Wisconsin, emphasises choice, transparency and new managerial practices. Using data from a year-long ethnographic study, the following analysis explores neoliberal educational policies at the state level that shape local educational policies and practices in Forest Lake. The Forest Lake school district is mired in a paradoxical situation in which being competitive in the educational marketplace equates to disrupting established school-community relations. The findings imply that required participation in an educational marketplace shifts the priorities of a rural school district to a focus on competition and financial security over the well-being of the school community.

Author Biography

Jennifer L. Seelig, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Dr Jennifer Seelig is a Postdoctoral Fellow with the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois. Her areas of interest include the impact of educational markets on school communities and the relationship between teacher labour policies, school climate and student academic achievement. Her recent work draws upon critical perspectives of school-community relations and demographic change.


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How to Cite

Seelig, J. L. (2017). Battling Declining Enrolment in the Upper Midwestern United States: Rural Schools in a Competitive Society. Australian and International Journal of Rural Education, 27(2), 77–92.