Indiana 'brain drain' draws concerns at universities

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

In a few weeks, Ashley Robbins will join thousands of Purdue University students in graduation ceremonies.

But unlike most of those wrapping up their studies on the West Lafayette campus, Robbins will start her professional career nearby.

Robbins plans to start work this fall at Find8 Digital, a Lafayette media marketing company where she excelled as an intern.

"It was mid-February or early March when they first expressed interest in wanting me to stay on," Robbins said. "I was surprised and ecstatic, because I didn't think they would want to hire on an intern."

The professional writing student is bucking a widespread trend.

Nearly 93 percent of Purdue graduates leave Tippecanoe County within a year of finishing school, according to data gathered by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

And just a third of Purdue graduates are working in Indiana five years after graduation, the Journal & Courier reported. The migration of young college graduates from the Hoosier State — often referred to as the "brain drain" — is a pattern that economic development experts, area employers and politicians are working to reverse.

Although officials could not point to any fixed data showing the economic consequences of these graduates leaving, an article written by Timothy Slaper of the Indiana Business Research Center showed a correlation between Indiana's per capita personal income and higher levels of education.

In the study, Slaper said a state's per capita personal income increased when there was a high concentration of high-tech and business occupations that require post-secondary education.

Indiana has a higher concentration of production and manufacturing jobs. That means graduates who are seeking employment with their degree might find more opportunities outside the state. When they leave, it affects the state's per capita personal income.

Purdue shares the burden with the state's other major public institutions. Indiana University's Bloomington campus recorded just an 8.1 percent retention rate for students remaining in the county a year after graduation. Ball State University's retention rate after a year was 8.3 percent.

Retention rates are influenced by many factors, including the availability of local employment, said Timothy Luzader, director of the Purdue University Center for Career Opportunities.

There's also the perception that cities such as Lafayette won't offer the same earning potential as nearby metropolitan areas, including Chicago.

When Robbins, the professional writing student, first started looking for work, she didn't think Lafayette would offer a job pool as competitive as Chicago or other major metropolitan areas.

"I want to get into user experience design and Web development," Robbins said, "and I thought that it is not something that would flourish in smaller cities."

Others leave to avoid getting stuck.

Nastassja Richardson, a Lafayette resident and 2012 Purdue graduate, hopes to soon put her wildlife biology degree to work in Denver or Portland.

She'll leave behind her family, but Richardson said she is drawn to the allure of anonymity offered by a big city and the promise of more things to do.

"So many people that live here just never leave, and I don't want to be one of those people . and I don't particularly like the idea of having a yard," she said.

The commission's data also indicated higher retention rates for smaller colleges and satellite schools.

For example, although the West Lafayette campus had a retention rate of 7.1 percent of graduates in the Tippecanoe County workforce, other schools, such as Purdue Calumet and Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, boasted retention rates of 42.1 and 45.7 percent, respectively, after their students' first years out of school.

"My sense is that a larger percentage of students at regional campuses or small to midsize schools are originally from that community," Luzader said. "More (of these) students are interested in staying closer to home and place more focus of their job search efforts in the local area."

The retention data, which measured graduation figures between 2000 and 2005, stem from a statewide system known as the Indiana workforce intelligence system. It was gathered in collaboration with the Indiana Department of Education, Indiana Business Research Center at Indiana University and the Department of Workforce Development.

"(The system) was designed because the agencies wanted to know what happens to students when they go into the workforce because graduating college isn't the end for these students," said Molly Chamberlin, associate commissioner for research and information with the higher education commission.

The data have limitations, Chamberlin said, since the system looks only at workforce records and doesn't include private institutions. But overall, she said the results confirmed trends that officials expected.

Lafayette-area economic development experts also have been monitoring the issue.

Joseph Seaman, president and CEO of Greater Lafayette Commerce, said chamber officials have been looking at this issue for some time. The reality is that Lafayette cannot compete with the retention rate of cities such as Indianapolis and Chicago, he said.

"The retention rate of cities such as Bloomington and Lafayette are never going to be real high, because we don't have ... (the) 7,000 job opportunities they do each year," Seaman said. "We can absorb some of it, but we can never be at the higher end."

Improving retention is a task that Tim Powers, president of School Datebooks, believes has to start long before a student purchases a cap and gown for commencement.

The Lafayette firm, which manufactures products including planners, agendas and calendars, has taken an active role in hiring young Purdue graduates.

More than two-thirds of the company's 65 full-time employees are Boilermakers, which Powers attributes to his company's strong relationship with Purdue. The company brings in dozens of interns each semester.

"Brain drain is the common term," Power said, "but to try to eliminate some of that. You've got to ... throw that invitation out while they're students so they know that there's more to Lafayette than what they see when they drive onto campus."

A report designed to steer Greater Lafayette into the future, called "From Good to Great: Making Greater Lafayette a Community of Choice," was released in September by Madison, Wis., consulting firm Next Generation Consulting. It affirms Powers' sentiment.

The Community of Choice plan, which is being implemented by a Quality of Life Council spearheaded by Greater Lafayette Commerce, say the community's key goals should be retaining young talent by increasing job opportunities and establishing a stronger relationship between Purdue and the rest of the area.

Seaman said Greater Lafayette Commerce wants to try new initiatives, such as having more job fairs at Purdue that focus on local businesses.

A new downtown Lafayette 'co-working' space also is an attempt to attract young entrepreneurs to settle in Tippecanoe County after graduating from Purdue.

"We are always trying to make this a better place to live, work and raise a family," Seaman said.

Politicians also are focused on improving retention figures.

"I don't want to see every kid that graduates go down to Indy," U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly said during a March visit to Lafayette's Wabash National Corp. "(We have) so many great towns."

Donnelly, a moderate legislator who recently came out in support of marriage equality, hinted at that meeting that he believed Indiana's traditionally conservative stance when it comes to gay marriage could be playing a role in brain drain.

"I want Indiana to be a welcoming place," Donnelly said. "We're competing for talent in a (global) market."

Not everyone rags on Lafayette as a bad place to settle after graduation.

Matthew Shively, a 2010 Purdue graduate, has worked in the Lafayette area a little more than two years. After being home for a year after graduation, he learned of a government position in Lafayette being a storm water technician. He was thrilled when he landed the job.

While his ultimate goal is to return to his hometown — Claypool, in Kosciusko County — Shively said he likes Lafayette because it is a midsize city.

"I wanted to stay close to home, and I liked Purdue and I liked this area because I was familiar with it, so I was hoping to find something here even if it was temporary," Shively said.

With graduation looming, Robbins still dreams of eventually ending up in a larger city, but starting her career in Lafayette offers benefits of its own, she said.

"It's not just me working for them," Robbins said. "It's them letting me do more and build my career."


  • An observation based on ignorance
    If Daniels didn't gut the funding given to IU and Purdue (and he's the president somehow ironically), we wouldn't need as many out of state and foreign students. I've been in school since 2006 but I've noticed a huge push to increase out of state and international students starting in 2010 when the cuts first started. Btw, look up the term xenophobe sometime.
  • The hypocrisy is appalling
    I am 25 and have lived in Indiana my whole life. I recently graduated with a biochemistry degree from IU and the only reason I stayed in this state was to pursue an MBA from the Kelley School of Business. I don’t think I’ve met one person whose goal was to stay in state after graduation. The only people I know who stayed did it because they didn’t have any other options. My program was created specifically for the purpose of feeding into pharma and biotech companies like Eli Lilly and Dow Agro. My goal is to eventually start my own biotech company. Young entrepreneurs like myself are something this state sorely needs and is sorely lacking. However, I won't be pursuing a job with any company in Indiana nor will I intend to start a company here. In fact, I have turned down offers, very competitive offers, some even much better than market, from in state employers. In fact, I am taking a lower paying job simply because it is not in Indiana. I am afraid If I take a job here I will get too comfortable and get stuck here like my parents. Unlike most of my friends my age, I actually like a lot of things about Indiana, the wilderness, the Indy 500, etc. As a young person who plans to leave this state as well, I’ll tell you why people my age want to leave. It’s not because of the weather, the lack of tech jobs, lack of culture, Midwest location or the lower pay. These are all factors, but the main reason why people want to leave even before they graduate, before they are even looking for a job, is because they can’t stand the shear hypocrisy of this states government and are tired of this state’s majority population that is either too idiotic or too ignorant to see that we are just being used as pawns by the political and economic elite of this state. As much as I wish I could stay here to try and fix this, I've realized it's a hopeless cause and that intelligent progressive minded people will always be in the minority, will always have to keep their views guarded and common sense will always be undermined by ignorance. For those of you who want to peg me as a bleeding liberal democrat, I am actually a fiscal conservative and am a proponent of many republican fiscal measures. As I’ve learned from my business background, lower taxes and less government oversight are typically good for helping to grow businesses such as the one I intend to start someday. However, after doing the research, I have determined that Indiana's tax laws do pretty much nothing to help small businesses; in fact they actually deter them. In reality, despite what Daniels and Pence claim, most of Indiana's business tax laws are designed to help only larger companies, most of which contributed to their campaigns. So I will be moving West where there are more venture capitalists and better start up tax laws in states like CO, CA, and WA, even though I don't agree with much of their liberal agenda. I am just sick of the blatant cronyism in this state that everyone just seems to ignore and go about business as usual. The king of this is Daniels. Only in Indiana could it be legal for a governor to appoint half the board of trustees at a university and then somehow magically become its president without anyone saying a word. Not to mention he gutted the state’s budget for higher education sending PU and IU universities into taking huge austerity measures. Then the man tries to ban a textbook, plagiarizes his response for doing so, and the professor who wrote the original response even claimed Daniels’ plagiarized him, but still no one did anything. Don't even get me started on the Edwardsport IGCC plant. It’s over $1.5 Billion over budget and a year late, which will cost current customers (only Indiana residents) $2.6 Billion extra in price hikes. The point was to lower energy prices!!! But the kicker is that the price of natural gas dropped an incredible amount due to the increase in reserves found during the time of the plant’s construction. Thus, making coal gasification no longer economically viable and the plant necessary. (And yes, natural gas is still cheaper than coal gasification despite the high costs to transport it as a liquid, not to mention it generates a higher KW per btu (thats energy efficiency for you non-engineers), and its cleaner burning). Well, Duke couldn't just go and lose $1.5 Billion, so they called their man Mitch in and he signed INTO LAW that Indiana had to be the plants sole customer AND at a fixed rate above the price of natural gas. This goes completely against the entire republican philosophy of free market capitalism. In fact, it’s a perfect example of SOCIALISM!!!! Think what you want about coal vs. natural gas, whatever, the point is Daniels is a gigantic hypocrite. All of this is documented and easily found in a quick internet search. Hint: Check the Indy STAR archives. I won't even get into how the area around this region is one of the most polluted in the country and many of the areas residents are being poisoned and developing cancers. I expect people in this state to ignore the environmental concerns, I wouldn't care much either aside from the cancers, but what gets me is no one seems to care how blatant of a carpetbagger Mitch Daniels is and that he is robbing the citizens of this state with that creepy smile of his and benefitting only himself and his friends. Hell, the man already had a house so nice he wouldn't even move into the governor's mansion. Oh yeah, don't forget about the IPALCO insider trading he made millions off of, while its employees lost everything. Oh yeah, and he completely dismantled the state's government workers union and now they're trying to force some early retirement package down the employees’ throats that reneges on the original pension that employees were promised. So employees who have been there for years thinking all that hard work would pay off have all gotten screwed. The list goes on and on. Ultimately, the leaders of this state are out to benefit only themselves and their cronies and no one else. This is no true republican state, it is a sham. It is an autocracy ruled by the political and economic elite. It is not a free market system. No one new is welcome to the table. Our leaders will sell us off to the highest campaign contributor. I don't now if people here just don't care or are just too ignorant to understand what's going on. I know that political graft is nothing knew, but it’s just the fact that even when caught red handed on one cares. We’ve just come to see it as the way things are done. But the people of my generation are much smarter and wiser than previous generations and we want no part of this corrupt, hypocritical state. I love my family, I love my home and where I grew up, but I can't stay. If I somehow get stuck here I will feel like a miserable failure. I would never in my wildest dreams want to raise a family here and send my kids through our 2nd and 3rd rate school systems that get worse by the year. (Coincidentally, in line with education cuts). Also, it is only until you spend a few weeks outside of the state that you realize how racist, sexist, and bigamist many of my fellow Hoosiers are. So that is why I must leave. And it is why many young people my age will leave. And I'm a fiscal conservative, so you've definitely lost the liberal hipsters of my generation, which is about 80% of them. The only reason why it looks like the brain drain is stalling at all is because of the economy’s crash, so no one could find jobs and had to stay home. As the economy recovers there will be less and less college grads and even less with tech related advanced degrees like myself who hope to start new businesses. Unfortunately, its other states that will reap the benefits of intelligent hard working Hoosiers because our own state doesn’t support us through start up programs or tax breaks for new businesses. I know there are a few VC programs, but I did some consulting with one of the largest here and they were a joke compared to the firm I interned with out of stare. I could tell it only existed simply so people like Daniels and Pence could say it existed. They have no intention of actually dolling out the kind of funding it takes to start a real commercial venture. I could go on and one. So basically, until the regime of government cronies is changed, I have no hope for this state, and the brain drain will only continue. If not for having one of the country’s largest health networks and Eli Lilly, Indy would be like Detroit. And at the rate things are changing for those industries, it won’t be long until Indy becomes the next Detroit unless something is done soon to improve our business tax laws, change our government leaders, and put emphasis back into educating the children of this state. An economy can only support so many plumbers, electricians, tradesmen, mechanics, etc. Until the leaders and people of this state start to see our reality for what it is, and start embracing new ideas, new technologies, and new philosophies, I hate to say it, but Indiana is doomed to forever be mired in mediocrity. We are only a few key business loses from becoming the “deep south” of the Midwest.
  • Weather
    My wife and I are both Purdue grads and I have been begging her to leave Indiana for 15 years. The weather here blows. You can't really even go outside between 5-8 months of the year. The sun shines way to infrequently. Most people stick around Indiana because they have family here. That is the only reason we are still here. If and when my kids graduate from college I will strongly encourage them to move to a nicer climate and I will follow them there. There are many places that have 300+ days of sunshine a year, IN is not one of them. Other than that, IN is a fine place to live and raise a family.
  • Hear, hear!
    I agree wholeheartedly with Tom! We're retiring in 3 years and cannot wait to get away from this bottomless pit of a cesspool you all call Indiana. Anti everything! Who in their right (whoops, maybe that's the wrong word) would ever want to stay in this place?
  • please leave
    @Tom take your progressive ideologies and please leave. CA would be a great opportunity. you seem the type who ignores gov waste, low taxes, business growth, and focuses on important things like gun control, fair shares, and gay marriage. NEWS FLASH: liberal states aren't faring all that well. don't think its all that bad to push the lib voters out.
  • Limited Public Transit, Anti-Gay Laws, Disenfranchisement Laws
    If you were an educated person with a high-income potential why on earth would you ever want to limit yourself by living here? Every time we talk about the "brain drain" without discussing the utterly backward way we operate our state and treat those different than us we do our fair state a dis-service. In truth, there are decent jobs here with good pay for people with the right training. The problem is, those individuals have options and if you have to choose between a place that: - Has public transit figured out. - Doesn't disciminate against gays. - Isn't trying to disenfranchise likely liberal voters. Or Indiana, which actively refuses to figure out public transit, regularly debates whether or not to enshrine bigotry in our constitution, and works overtime to reduce the number of liberal voters? These things may not matter to you, but they matter to the people you're trying to attract. Honestly, I frequently consider leaving: It seems "my kind" (i.e. educated, high-income, not-conservative) isn't actually welcome here. Our leaders pay lip-service to fears of a "brain drain" but work overtime to prevent any progress from being made on these basic issues. If you want Indianapolis to become a world-class city, we're going to have to figure out a way to sidestep or redneck/anti-urban state legislature, which effectively imposes a conservative "Veto" over Indianapolis, despite conservatives being a minority here. Or we we can not do it and Indiana can become the 21st century's answer to Mississippi. That is to say backward, totally uneducated, with a totally devastated economy with zero to offer a company bringing high-wage/high-skill jobs.
    • It's Very Simple
      I have news for these smarty-pants. Indiana is absolutely, 100 percent perfect just the way it is. There is no need for change of any kind. In fact, change is extremely scary and bad, unless we're talking about construction of new highways or implementation of additional sports entertainment subsidies. Anyone who does not agree should leave the state immediately.
    • SERIOUSLY I COULS SOLVE IT IN 5 minutes and invoice less than $125.
      Wow perhaps if the universities didn't give 15-20% of the seats to FOREIGN STUDENTS OR OUT OF STATE NONRESIDENT STUDENTS PROBLEM SOLVED! But then they would have to get real and cut salary and benefits of all the bloated non teaching bureaucrats...

      Post a comment to this story

      We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
      You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
      Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
      No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
      We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

      Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

      Sponsored by

      facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

      Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
      Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
      thisissue1-092914.jpg 092914

      Subscribe to IBJ