The Brain Drain
Michigan does a great job producing college graduates, but struggles to keep them here. The exodus of educated young people has come to be called brain-drain. It’s a threat to Michigan’s future because those packing their bags are crucial to an economic recovery.
Michigan has 15 public universities that serve almost 300,000 students each year. But almost half of these students leave the state after they graduate. That means Michigan has the 8th worst migration rate in the nation. Even South Dakota, Alabama and Idaho do a better job keeping college graduates in their states.
There used to be a steady stream of college graduates flowing in and out of Michigan, but that flow has turned into a sputter that businesses fear will dry up altogether. In 2008, Michigan lost a total of 15,000 students with bachelor’s degrees to other states. And according to Michigan Future, an Ann Arbor based think tank, over half of the college graduates that left the state don’t ever plan to come back.
Melanie MacEachern is one of those graduates. She’s about to finish up at the University of Michigan with a degree in Art History and Classic Civilization. “I don’t think I’d stay here, to be honest,” she said.
Ken Darga is Michigan’s State Demographer. He says up until 2004 Michigan didn’t have a brain drain problem.
“But then as Michigan got deeper and deeper into a one state recession the people moving into Michigan went down and the number moving out went up and so we did have a brain drain that reached a peak around 2006,” Darga said.
Every state thinks it has a brain drain, but ignores the fact that migration rates for young people tend to be much higher than any other age group.
Britany Affolter-Caine is the Manager of Intern in Michigan. It tries to keep Michigan’s college grads in-state by connecting them with local businesses. She knew the problem was bad, but she was shocked when she saw the census data in 2007.
“If you look at the state and the number of students, age 22-29 with a bachelors degree or higher, no other state in the union lost more than Michigan, except for one, and that was Louisiana — that was just after Katrina!” she said.
But Darga insists the problem is exaggerated. He says every state thinks it has a brain drain, but ignores the fact that migration rates for young people tend to be much higher than any other age group. Besides, he argues, the number of recent college graduates leaving has leveled out, and it’s a tiny percent of the total state population.
While 15,000 people may not be a mass exodus in a state of 10 million, it is an exodus of brain power. The problem is simple: the people leaving Michigan are the people the state needs most.
- Why They Leave (November 9, 2009)
- Creating Policies to Lure College Grads to Detroit (November 20, 2009)
- Hiring Gen Y (December 17, 2009)
- Pledging Allegiance to Michigan (November 16, 2009)
- Staying in Grand Rapids (December 10, 2009)