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Plugging the brain drain

Granholm, officials differ on solutions to keep the state's college grads in Mich.

April 16, 2009

Gov. Jennifer Granholm held a public forum Thursday to discuss the large amount of college graduates leaving Michigan.

During the forum, she addressed the impacts the federal stimulus package will have on education, which she hopes will help encourage recent graduates to remain in the state.

Dearborn — When 2006 MSU graduate Alicia Bowerman moved to New York City three years ago, she had no job prospects but had plenty of MSU contacts. “It’s a small world, even though it’s New York City,” Bowerman said, laughing. “I mean, I run into people I went to basketball games with my freshman year.”

Bowerman received a degree in apparel and textile design and said by the time she moved to New York, many people from her major already had relocated there. An MSU alumni helped her obtain both of her jobs in New York.

Bowerman is one of many MSU alumni to leave the state at the same time that Gov. Jennifer Granholm seeks to double the amount of the state’s college graduates.

A new focus

Granholm has emphasized a diversified job market as the cure to the state’s brain drain for months, and reiterated her stance during a public forum Thursday. But others think the problem lies elsewhere.

Lou Glazer, the president of Ann Arbor-based think tank Michigan Future Inc., said the lack of jobs isn’t the only reason college graduates are leaving Michigan.

In 2007, 53 percent of Michigan graduates looked for a job based on the place they wanted to live, according to a survey by Michigan Future.

And one-third of students who left the state had been offered a full-time job in Michigan.

“The state government is really missing the boat when they think the only thing driving the decision is where job availability is,” Glazer said.

Paul Jaques, an internship developer for MSU, said students mainly are interested in a place that fits the type of lifestyle they seek, and that Chicago and New York are the two most common places students desire to move.

“Some students are taking jobs that aren’t even in their field,” he said.

“A student might go to Chicago and be a waitress, to be with friends, to live in a cool area and have the Chicago lifestyle.”

Rather than focusing solely on jobs, the state needs to focus on making itself more attractive and entertaining, Jaques said.

A report released Tuesday by MSU’s Land Policy Institute stated that communities need to focus more on investing in green spaces and redeveloping downtowns to attract recent college graduates.

Young workers will drive economic growth, and communities should strive to attract them, the report said.

“Every place doesn’t have everything,” said Land Policy Institute Director Soji Adelaja in a statement. “But virtually every place has something that can appeal to certain segments of the population and create prosperity for communities.”

Granholm said that although college graduates are more globalized now, she hopes they remember Michigan is their home.

“I understand young people wanting to leave; try another place, but we want people to come back,” she said.

Keith Wentzel, a 1974 MSU graduate, has lived with his wife — also a former Spartan — in Boston for the past 24 years. He has never come back.

“We spent our honeymoon out here, and we always thought if we had an opportunity to live here it would be cool, so we jumped at it,” he said.

Wentzel said he has not considered moving back to Michigan, even though he has family here and is encouraging his son to attend MSU.

“When you start to look at cities around the country and compare them with Detroit, there’s really not a whole lot of comparison,” Wentzel said.

Economic effects

Even with the allure of vibrant cities and flashier lifestyles, numbers show the economy also plays a role in leading graduates elsewhere.

In 2007, 51 percent of MSU graduates who reported employment launched their career in Michigan, said Kelley Bishop, executive director of the Office of Career Services & Placement.

However, preliminary looks at the 2008 numbers show a noticeable drop in graduates staying in the state, Bishop said.

“I was surprised … I figured it was going to be about the same,” he said. “But clearly the economy is having an impact.”

Granholm delivered the same message during Thursday’s public forum at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

“The reason why people are leaving Michigan is because we have shed jobs,” Granholm said. “It’s all about jobs — people are going to go where the opportunity is.”

The way to encourage college graduates to stay in Michigan is to diversify the job market, she said.

Life sciences, advanced manufacturing, homeland security and alternative energy are the four areas the state should focus on expanding, Granholm said.

However, even if Michigan’s job base begins to diversify, Bishop said he has some concern that students expecting to graduate in 2009 will have a difficult time finding a job in the state.

“I know most of us are hoping that the economy will turn around enough by end of summer,” Bishop said. “My hope is that this really picks up in time for the 2009 class to still be in the ball game.”

If the recession continues another year, by the time employers begin recruiting again, they will be looking at the 2010 graduating class and the 2009 class will be overlooked, he said. This could lead more students to leave Michigan.

Lauren Wilton, an MSU education graduate student who is completing a year of intern teaching at Hope Middle School in Holt, said she would like to find a job in Michigan, but mostly is discovering that there aren’t any.

“My family and friends are here. And I think it would be hard to leave, but I’m looking everywhere,” she said.

“I’m looking out of state and overseas. I’m open to whatever.”

Future plans

MSU is involved with plans to officially launch the Intern in Michigan program next week.

The program seeks to help small and mid-sized Michigan employers connect with interns from state universities, Bishop said.

“Part of our focus is to help employers from Michigan compete with employers out of state,” he said.

Students might be leaving the state not because they have given up on finding a job in Michigan, but because they already have been recruited by an out-of-state company, he said.

MSU is a strategic university for big, brand-name companies, and Intern in Michigan could help smaller companies that are new to hiring interns feel as accommodated as the bigger companies, Bishop said.

If more students receive internships in Michigan, it could lead to more full-time jobs.

And that would attract the 47 percent of students who reported that finding a job is more important than moving to their preferred location, Glazer said.

“I wish (Granholm) well in diversifying the economy,” he said.

“But that’s not going to happen overnight, but more internships can.”

Glazer also said helping students to pay off student loans if they agree to stay in Michigan for a certain amount of time after graduation would be another smart approach for Michigan’s government.

“(It) costs money, but our sense is that it’s a priority,” he said.

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