Retaining college grads recipe for economic growth


(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star

Millions of Indiana parents hope their kids graduate from college and then choose to live, work and raise a family in the Hoosier state.

Some parents may want sons and daughters to see the world after earning that degree, but likely yearn for that child to return at some point.

Indiana struggles to retain graduates of the state’s nearly 70 colleges and universities. Indiana faces an even greater struggle to attract college graduates from other states to live as Hoosiers.

Mitch Daniels made the fight against “brain drain” a priority during his two terms as governor, from 2005 to 2013. Daniels has continued to lead that mission as the president of Purdue University. Last week, Daniels gave an update of a pilot program he launched called “Purdue Brain Gain” while accepting a business leadership award from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Its concept appears promising and could spread to other Indiana institutions of higher learning, and that is important. The state ranks 16th in the U.S. for the number of college degrees its institutions grant, but 40th in the number of residents with a degree.

That shortage of college trained Hoosiers inhibits outside employers from relocating to Indiana.

Daniels announced an expansion of the Brain Gain initiative on Tuesday, which was no coincidence. That same day, Amazon revealed its plan to place its ballyhooed secondary headquarters in two locations, New York and the Washington, D.C., suburbs, bypassing 18 other cities, including Indianapolis. The Big Apple and D.C. area won because of their deep pool of existing, highly educated, steadily replenished talent.

So, under Daniels’ project, Purdue reached out to its alumni in other states, “expatriate Boilermakers,” as he called them, asking if they were interested in finding a job in Indiana. The university also contacted hundreds of Hoosier companies, asking if they wanted to find employees through the networking effort. In Tuesday’s announcement, Daniels said 220 out-of-staters responded to the call out.

He wants other Hoosier universities and more Indiana companies to join the mission. That should happen.

“Fifteen years ago, many of us adopted as our central goal, the reversal of the state’s brain drain,” Daniels said in a statement. “Since that time, Indiana’s population has begun outgrowing our neighbors, including a net in-migration of college graduates, but it’s not nearly enough.”

Sixty-six percent of college graduates are living and working in Indiana one year after graduation, according to an Indiana Business Research Center study in 2014. They gradually begin to leave afterward, though. Five years after earning a diploma, only 55 percent of those grads remain here. Those departures add to Indiana lagging the nation in the number of residents with degrees, just 25 percent compared to 30 nationally.

The state’s approach must be multi-pronged. Incomes in Indiana lag the nation, too. Hoosiers earn 88 cents for every dollar the average American earns. Communities also must invest in quality of life attributes. Graduates of Indiana colleges and those elsewhere must see towns and cities with appealing lifestyle opportunities.

Many communities have made enhancements of their historic and cultural assets a priority, including those who successfully received $42-million Indiana Regional Cities Initiative grants in 2015, largely hinged upon riverfronts.

It would seen natural for current Gov. Eric Holcomb, who worked in Daniels’ administration, to rekindle the former governor’s statewide brain drain battle. Both seem motivated by economic growth possibilities, and bringing more college grads back home to Indiana would instigate that growth.

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