Thursday, September 10, 2009

Brain Drain Report: College Destinations Index

Michigan is spending a lot of money to stop brain drain. The latest news concerns $1.2 million from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to help bolster an internship initiative:

The conventional wisdom is that college students who intern are more likely to stay in the region where the internship is located. It often serves as a portal for the first job for Michigan's youngest and brightest talent.

Conventional wisdom is that graduates from community colleges are more likely to stay in the region than those from a private liberal arts school. Stopping out-migration and reversing the population decline is not an end in and of itself. If the depth of the talent pool is the issue, then take a sober look at migration data. An anecdote representative of what you will discover can be found in a Wall Street Journal article about the demise of the Big Ten college football conference:

Even top-level recruiting is solid within the region. When the North produces an elite prospect, such as Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor of Jeannette, Pa., those players still tend to remain near home.

The main problem seems to be rooted in the population growth of the South and West, and the greater zeal for high-school football in those regions. Historically, Pennsylvania and Ohio rank third and fourth all-time in terms of the number of NFL players born within their borders. Florida is fifth. But today, Florida has nearly twice as many active players as Ohio and more than three times as many as Pennsylvania. The South and West continue to benefit because of the national population trend: 47 of the 50 fastest-growing metropolitan areas between 2007 and 2008 were in those regions, according to the Census Bureau. Playing football also is just not as important to Northerners. In the last school year, more high schoolers in Georgia played football than in Pennsylvania, according to data from the National Federation of State High School Associations, even though Pennsylvania has nearly three million more residents.

The apple doesn't tend to fall far from the tree and traditional football states such as Pennsylvania aren't producing enough great apples. Much of the talent grown in Southeastern Michigan stays in the Rust Belt. A good place to look for workers is at the public universities in neighboring states. Throwing a lot of money to keep a University of Michigan engineering graduate from employment at a solar panel production plant in Toledo, Ohio doesn't make a lot of sense.

That brings me to the College Destination Index. Those rankings are popping up in the news cycle this week. From an Albany paper:

The Albany metro area was recently ranked the 15th-best small metropolitan area to attend college, according to the American Institute for Economic Research. We scored higher than Portland, Maine, and below top-ranked Boulder, Colo., among 20 cities in that category.

The rankings are based on the number of students as a percentage of the area's population, diversity, cost of living, cultural activities and the area's earning potential. Also considered are research capacity, city accessibility and whether the area has brain drain or gain.

How is brain drain measured? From Ithaca:

In the professional opportunity area, Ithaca's brain drain, measured as a year-over-year ratio of the population with a bachelor's of arts living in the area, was 0.995.

I think that number means a slight decrease in the percentage of smartypants living in the region. Too many Cornell graduates heading to New York City? I don't understand the fuss. Not all inter-regional talent churn is equal. Keeping someone from leaving is a difficult task and likely detrimental to that person's earning power.

I don't expect a small business in Ithaca to attract an employee who went to school at Emory. But someone from Penn State or Bucknell or the University of Buffalo would seem like an easy mark. Shouldn't this demographic be the target of the internship program? Functionally, the brain gain is the same. But only one approach goes with the flow.

No comments: