Sunday, May 08, 2011

War For College Students

What if you built a university where nobody lived? When federal real estate was the main way for the US Government to raise revenue, land grant universities made a world of sense. In Buffalo, the late 19th-century informs a Rust Belt revival:

Where a drab low-income housing project now sits, leaders of the University at Buffalo, part of the State University of New York system, envision glass-and-steel biomedical buildings. They propose hiring hundreds of new professors and thousands of staff members. They imagine young researchers living in restored lofts, dining at street-side bistros and walking to work.

I have mixed feelings about the plan. As an economic development strategy, I like it. Demographically, I worry that Buffalo is fighting against the current.

The latter concern is more worthy of a blog post. There are only so many students to go around. Recruiters are scavenging the world for anyone willing to fill a seat. With slashing budgets, tuition revenue is of growing importance.

Rust Belt regions do a great job of educating a local workforce. But that pool of high school graduates is shrinking or barely growing. Over the last few years, orientation of marketing has shifted to out-of-state. Beggar-thy-neighbor is the usual gambit. Ohio's gain is Pennsylvania's loss (e.g. Youngstown State).

I recommend a bolder approach. Go after the children of the foreign born who reside in the gateway cities outside of the Rust Belt. Cut those kids, second generation immigrants, a tuition deal. You don't have to tangle with the Department of Justice. You still have a vital link to the homeland abroad.

Proximity (state next door) is the low-hanging fruit. It's also a zero sum game. "Midnight's Children" represent a connection to a huge number of ambitious students. They are an army of globalization. What's the UB 2020 plan for attracting talent?

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