Monday, June 29, 2009

Managing Brain Drain

The only way colleges and universities can retain students is to keep them from graduating. Cities and regions aren't all that different from institutions of higher education. Case in point is California University of Pennsylvania:

For years, says campus President Angelo Armenti Jr., recruiters at his school -- California University of Pennsylvania -- toiled in counties where the death rate was higher than the birth rate.

"We had to find students elsewhere or be condemned to shrinking," he said.

And it found plenty.

A school once so worried about enrollment losses that it pondered a name change in 2001 invested $125 million to replace its aging dormitories with suite-style apartments. It beefed up its marketing and targeted its recruiting to the eastern part of the state, including Philadelphia, as well as towns all along the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

It pushed into online learning so aggressively that by last year, it counted more students from the state of California than from the neighboring states of Maryland, New York or West Virginia.

If you don't want to shrink, then you must attract outsiders. Take all the ideas about plugging the brain drain and only talk about how to get talent to move to your area. Drop the term "retention". Don't mention it again.

I took heart in a story from Dayton:

Ben Norton and Amanda Baker, both 22 and May 2009 graduates of the University of Dayton who came from bigger cities, are launching careers as artists here.

The reason why is Summer Space, a pilot incentive that provides studio space, supplies, a gallery opening in the fall and serious encouragement to create.

“If I was back home in Nashville, I would be living with my parents, painting in the basement and competing just to get my foot in the door of the art scene,” said Norton, a painter whose work is being sponsored by Summer Space board member Sue Thompson.

“I’m already part of that here. I never expected to have an opportunity like this.”

“I think we can start something,” said Baker, a photographer from Columbus. “I would love to be part of putting Dayton back on the charts.”

That's the Rust Belt way forward. Outsiders will rebuild these cities and all the resources and energy should be channeled in that direction. Granted, I understand that these Dayton graduates stayed in the region. But we should be looking at how the university attracted this talent to the city in the first place. Dayton can mimic its own university's success. Also, market the opportunities that enticed Ben Norton and Amanda Baker to stick around to out-of-state graduates. Send Ben back to Nashville to poach Vanderbilt students and help them relocate to Dayton.


Stephen Gross said...

This is a very interesting idea. Normally colleges CPUs on industry cooperation as a way of ensuring its graduates find jobs. But maybe colleges can use a more direct mechanism to help their grads get started. Certainly for artists, colleges can provide gallery space. What about other types of grads? Engineering? Software?

Courtney Ehrlichman said...

CMU is working on this. The College of Fine Arts contributes 40-50 citizens a year to Pittsburgh. Not only does Pittsburgh need to attract talent, it needs to retain and integrate the talent it creates. Harnessing this creative community for the city to tap into to drive even more innovation is critical. "The ability to innovate depends on the availability of creative skills ... for sustained innovation and growth, regions need to be able to draw on a the talents of their flourishing creative community."-Sir George Cox. Also creative communities attract more creative folks and young people who want jobs in the creative fields. Here is the report:

Stephen Gross said...

Courtney: Glad to hear about CMU's efforts in this area. How is your PR for the effort? Are people in the area--especially students--aware of this?

Courtney Ehrlichman said...

PR isn't so hot. NOt totally funded yet. Working on it.