Thursday, August 07, 2008

Another Trip Down the Brain Drain

There is some evidence that in New Brunswick the out-migration plumbing is beginning to back up. That brain circulation story begins with the expected local refrain:

The brain drain was a much-discussed topic in 1994, just as it is today. During a scholarship interview, I was asked, "should the government require university students to work in their home province, as a way of paying back society's investment in their education?" I remember thinking that most graduates I knew weren't leaving New Brunswick because they wanted to, but because so little work was available.

I'm sure New Brunswick businesses would love to have a captive labor market at the ready. The interests of talent and the community are still at odds.

Michigan is grappling with the same Gordian Knot. The plan is to expand the successful Kalamazoo Promise to the entire state. This time, a carrot is offered:

Funds should go directly to students. This lets them use our tax dollars to attend the university that best meets their needs. Each school would be compensated based on how many students it attracts and graduates. This puts the onus on universities to provide programs that help students find careers matching today's marketplace. Ultimately, schools meeting the needs of more students will get higher funding.

The Plan also addresses "brain drain" -- students leaving the state upon graduation. Employers often complain of too few qualified employees in Michigan to fill positions.

Under the proposed plan, students who work in Michigan after graduation could get low or interest-free loans to help with college costs. The plan's primary goal, obviously, is to encourage more Michigan students to go to college by making it more affordable.

The lawmaker backing the proposal claims to put market forces to work. I guess that includes everything but the labor market. I'm all for increasing higher education opportunities for Michigan residents, but the cry to keep graduates in state is exasperating.

Not to be outdone, here is the New Jersey Promise:

Faced with shrinking state funds and a steady migration of students out of state, representatives of state colleges, universities and businesses said Monday they are looking for new ways to help more high school graduates get accepted into state colleges, graduate in four years and get jobs in the state.

I'd bet that the students who are exiting the state to attend college would tend to leave New Jersey anyway upon graduation from one of the state universities. But investment in populations unlikely to receive any schooling beyond secondary education might result in an increase in local talent. I'm not aware of any studies that trace the geographic mobility of novel (in terms of family) college graduates. I would expect there to be at least some sort of generational effect.

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