Politicians and business leaders over the last decade have referenced the “brain drain” as a major problem for the state of Michigan. College students graduate from a state college or university and move elsewhere to pursue a job or begin their career.
Some say this “brain drain” is because there aren’t enough opportunities in Michigan, or it’s not a desirable place to live. Or maybe young people just want to spread their wings? Regardless of the reason, our elected officials have used it as a talking point. Gov. Rick Snyder has referenced it numerous times during his time in office, and we’ve even seen legislation introduced to provide tax credits to slow down the talent exodus.
There’s always going to be graduates leaving the state, but is that exodus as massive as we think?
An in-depth new study from Jonathan Rothwell at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program shows that the brain drain trend is reversing. The study shows the market retaining the most college graduates in the country is actually Metro Detroit.
According to the study, 77.7% of college grads in Metro Detroit stay in the area after they get their degree. Even if you only count four-year institutions, the Motor City sits at 70.2%, which is third-best in the nation.
Richard Florida wrote about the study for The Atlantic and joined Stateside to talk about the data and says politicians have it all wrong about what makes a strong state economy.
“The thing that has made Michigan a great state isn’t all this baloney about industrial recruitment and keeping companies and bailing out industries,” said Florida. “It’s because you have great state-funded institutions like the University of Michigan and Michigan State and Wayne State. And the state should recommit to that.”
Florida cites a variety of examples of economic successes around the country like in California, Texas and North Carolina. They all have one thing in common: great state university systems.
What else has led to the increase in talent retention in Metro Detroit?
“I think what’s happening is that Detroit is coming back on its own,” said Florida. “Not because of any federal policy, not because of a government bailout, people are fed up paying the prices of New York and San Francisco where, for a million dollars you can’t get a shoebox to live in. So it’s an opportunity for [people to live in] … a cool, interesting, gritty, urban, sophisticated, cosmopolitan city just like Detroit.
"It’s a moment," he added. "All of the things that have been going on there make it much more attractive. I’m talking to people all over the country who are thinking about Detroit, moving to Detroit, excited about Detroit. So I think that’s what’s happening. Detroit’s moment is now.”
Florida said when you expand the data to include Ann Arbor and Lansing, the numbers are still good. Just not Top 5 in the nation level good. He said they fall at about 57% for all colleges and that number drops to about 40% for just four-year institutions.
Listen to the full interview below to hear more about the “brain drain” trends, how recruiting foreign talent can help raise the bar within higher education and why retaining talent is so important to a local economy.