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The Difficult Task of Clogging the Brain Drain

March 09, 2001

Growing and keeping an educated workforce, one ready to help build a technology-based economy, is one of the greatest challenges even the most high-tech areas. The problem can be quite severe. For example, a new statewide survey of Florida college students, conducted by Leadership Florida and Nova Southeastern University, revealed that only 48 percent of the students plan to remain in Florida after graduation. (For a copy of the Florida survey report see http://www.leadershipflorida.org/survey.asp

Who Will Stay and Who Will Leave?, a forthcoming report from the Southern Technology Council (STC), provides one of the first in-depth looks at what factors influence graduate migration behavior after college. With emphasis on recent science and engineering graduates, STC identified several individual, institutional, and state-level predictors of student retention using a series of regression analyses of 44 different variables. 

While a few of the results are somewhat predictable, the report is full of surprises that may help policy makers in thinking and rethinking efforts to clog the brain drain. 

For example, one might expect high school students that stay in-state to attend college also will seek jobs in-state after graduation. STC’s statistical analysis of behavior patterns of 7,000 students bears this out but to the remarkable degree that generally in-state students are 10 times as likely to remain in-state as are out-of-state students. The policy implications of this single finding, then would support the efforts of many areas to provide scholarships to entice the best high school students to stay in-state for their college education. But, statistics from the Georgia HOPE Scholarship program, on which many other states’ efforts are modeled, revealed that while the Georgia program was celebrating its 500,000 recipient last Fall, six out of ten scholarship recipients once in college failed to maintain the B average required to remain in the program. Georgia HOPE program officials are exploring alternatives to correct the problem. 

A new University of Georgia study <http://www.terry.uga.edu/hope/hope.enrollments.pdf> showed the HOPE

scholarship program has been influential in keeping the state's brightest high school students in-state for college – a significant goal based on the STC findings regarding the likelihood of students remaining in-state after school. Three-fourths of high school students scoring over 1500 on the SAT now remain in state for higher education; only 23 percent stayed in Georgia prior to the creation of the scholarship program. Additionally, results showed 96 percent of the in-state students at the University of Georgia received HOPE scholarship funds. 

However, the STC analysis reveals that paying for all of its brightest students to attend college in-state may not necessarily help a state stop the brain drain, particularly if the state is trying to increase the number of science and engineering graduates. STC found that graduates are less likely to be employed in-state if they: 

  • graduate in engineering and the physical sciences 
  • have a high grade-point average 
  • graduate from a research-intensive university 
  • graduate from a historically black college or university, or  
  • command an above-average starting salary upon graduation. 

In fact, 43.2 percent of individuals who obtain their high school degree in a given state will relocate out of state when they complete college, STC found. The range of retention rates for S&E grads was quite wide from an impressive 81 percent to a staggeringly low 18 percent. 

Graduates were more likely to stay in-state for employment after college if they are foreign students, majored in fields outside engineering and the physical sciences, were older than average for their class, attended a large college in a large metropolitan area, or attended college in a more populous state. 

STC suggests that “states may be well-served by lowering out-of-state tuition.” The authors contend graduates with science & engineering degrees who attended high school outside the state “are as important as” homegrown graduates and there is a “need to attract bright students from elsewhere to offset the inevitable loss of some homegrown students.” 

STC found students attracted to a state for college are 2.5 times more likely to remain in-state after graduation than are residents who left the state to attend college likely to return. 

Based on this report, policy makers may want to focus first and foremost on keeping high school students in state for college, and working hard to attract bright students in science and engineering who attended high school outside the state. For states with low retention rates, programs to recruit “arriving” students would seem more likely to bear positive results than efforts to entice former residents to return. 

The draft verion of Who Will Stay and Who Will Leave? can be downloaded from the Southern Technology Council website: http://www.southern.org/migration/migration.shtml