Endowment pledges $63M toward fight against brain drain

The Lilly Endowment will announce on Thursday nearly $63 million in grants to Indiana’s colleges to combat brain drain among their graduates.

It’s the third round of grants over the past decade that are part of what the endowment calls its Initiative to Promote Opportunities Through Educational Collaborations. In two previous rounds, the endowment granted $57 million to Indiana colleges and universities.

And while the Indianapolis-based foundation acknowledged that there has been progress during that time, it wants to see more.

“Despite a steady supply of four-year college graduates, Indiana ranks very low among the states in the percentage of its adult working-age population that has a bachelor’s degree, and the state’s average per-capita income ranking also is unacceptable,” said Sara Cobb, the Lilly Endowment’s vice president for education, in a prepared statement.

Indeed, just 25 percent of Hoosiers between the ages of 25 and 64 hold at least a bachelor’s degree, according to Census data, compared with a national rate of 30 percent. And Indiana’s per-capita income has been on a 50-year slide, so that the average Hoosier now earns 85 cents for every dollar earned by the average American.

Indiana already does better than most states at holding on to its college graduates, according to an IBJ analysis of surveys of college graduates across the country. Where Indiana lags the rest of the country is on its ability to attract educated adults, according to census data.

Those findings led Ball State University economist Mike Hicks to question the endowment's brain-drain grants and other similarly focused efforts.

“The brain-drain efforts in Indiana have largely identified the wrong target and applied a lot of resources to it,” Hicks said in a September interview. “The problem lies not in how many people we’re educating or how we’re educating them, but in having places that they want to live."

But there is also evidence that Indiana’s business sector is not producing enough jobs in industry sectors that demand workers with bachelor’s degrees, especially those with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math.

According to a 2013 study conducted by Ohio-based consulting firm Battelle and funded by the endowment, Indiana has a deficit in almost all “traded-sector” industries that serve national or global markets.

“Across nearly all high-skilled occupations critical to traded sector industries, Indiana is either growing slower or declining faster than the U.S. average,” the study concluded. “This is a clear indication of the weakness in demand for high-skilled occupations appropriate for bachelor’s-and-above college graduates found in Indiana.”

The endowment provided funding last year to help universities review the Battelle study and propose new ideas to further improve job prospects for their graduates. Those proposals have now resulted in the new round of grant funding, which will send $62.7 million to 39 colleges and universities.

The endowment determined the size of its grants based on the enrollment at each college or university.

The largest grants, of $5 million each, went to Indiana University and Purdue University, the state’s publicly-funded research universities, which are both trying to produce more innovations that can be turned into job-producing companies in Indiana.

Ivy Tech Community College, which is trying to fill a gap in Indiana of so-called middle-skill workers, will receive nearly $4.9 million.

Grants of $3 million each will go the University of Notre Dame, Ball State University, Indiana State University, Indiana Wesleyan University, the University of Southern Indiana and Vincennes University.

Most other schools received awards of roughly $1 million each.

“We are encouraged by the variety of thoughtful programs that colleges and universities proposed,” Cobb stated. “These activities have the potential to increase significantly the number of Indiana college graduates who find satisfying opportunities in the state.”

Nearly all the colleges will use the money to expand internships and experiential learning opportunities for students, the endowment said.

More than 75 percent of the schools will expand their career development programs and try to move them earlier in students’ college experiences.

More than two-thirds of the schools plan to alter their courses to better fit employers’ needs. Nearly half of those schools will create programs specifically focused on entrepreneurship. And 10 colleges will create new degree programs aimed at employer needs.

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