Connecticut was listed recently as one of only six states that saw declining populations.  Perhaps it is the cold weather or the search for better opportunities, but it is very real. Some refer to what’s happening as “brain drain”– the idea that we are losing the best and brightest to other states.

We have known about this problem for some time. In 2010, Governor Malloy said “We need to do more to reverse the ‘brain drain’ in the state…”  In 2012, the Washington Post ranked Connecticut sixth overall for the highest numbers of college students leaving the state.

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Fortunately, the United States as a whole has been the primary beneficiary of “brain drain” for decades.  The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that 88 percent of PhD students from China studying in the U.S. remained working here five years after graduation.  Even the UK and France have expressed concern about the levels of emigration from their highly skilled workers to the U.S.

So where does that leave Connecticut?  Other nations have asked host countries to make it harder for their citizens to emigrate.  Unfortunately, we cannot pressure Massachusetts or New York to make their states less appealing or harder to get into.

Ultimately, the best solution would be to stop people from leaving in the first place.  China, the UK, and France found the same solution to combat “brain drain”– by investing in higher education.

Fortunately, Connecticut already has an excellent system of higher education — one that keeps students in the state.  More than 80 percent of students graduating from Connecticut State Universities (Eastern, Western, Southern, and Central) remain in Connecticut after graduation. This cannot be said of other public (UConn) or private higher education institutions in the state.

Using data from Connecticut 2014 Department of Revenue Services Tax Incidence Report and Degree Completion Rates from the CSCU Board of Regents, the 80 percent of CSU graduates who remain in Connecticut would completely repay the state’s investment in their bachelor’s degree in eight years (even for the 20 percent who leave the state) through the income and sales taxes they pay.  By keeping our students in Connecticut, the CSUs pay for themselves many times over.  In fact, they become one of the driving forces of our economy.

Other countries already know this.

China’s goal is to turn 100 of their universities into “world class institutions.”  The UK and France have both launched ambitious plans to hire more university faculty in order to keep graduate students from leaving, entice those that have left to return and increase the numbers of skilled workers at home.

However, once a shortage of skilled workers has taken hold, it becomes incredibly expensive to fill the gap created by this loss in human capital, which is something other countries are learning as they spend billions of dollars to reverse the effects of brain drain.

If we slash the budgets of our only proven system of higher education that graduates a majority of Connecticut youth and keeps them in the state, we are ensuring even greater budget deficits in the future.

William Lugo, Ph.D., is faculty advisor committee representative to the Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education and an associate professor of sociology at Eastern Connecticut State University.

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