Note: This column was submitted by Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie. It appeared in the Indianapolis Star on June 15, 2018.
When Amazon announced earlier this year that it had chosen Indianapolis as one of a small number of finalists for its second headquarters, the news reflected Indiana’s ever-growing reputation as a rapidly expanding technology hub and thriving place to do business.
It also offered further proof that the Hoosier state’s strategy for leading in today’s highly competitive and dynamic marketplace – a strategy centered on boosting brainpower and building a well-trained workforce with the most contemporary skills – is definitely working.
Indeed, Indiana’s focus on keeping its talent pipeline full is generating very positive results. But in what has truly become a global race for talent, we cannot afford to slow down, which means providing the highest-quality education to Hoosiers while also simultaneously attracting the best and brightest students from all across the nation and around the world.
At Indiana University, we recently concluded a commencement season in which we conferred a record of more than 21,000 IU degrees across our seven campuses. As the state’s flagship university, we are extremely proud that we remain the first choice for the majority of Hoosiers seeking a four-year or graduate education and that, annually, around seven in every 10 of our graduates are Indiana residents.
We are equally proud that, increasingly, we are the first choice for the top students from every state in America and countries representing each corner of the globe.
Currently, 25 percent of our undergraduates who earn degrees are from other states or overseas. While some leave the state after graduation, increasingly many stay in our state, electing to do so because of the numerous employment opportunities available to them in an innovative and prosperous economy and by the Hoosier quality of life.
Repeated studies show that one of the leading determinants of where a person will settle down is where they attend college. In a state where we regularly hear about the difficulties employers have in attracting enough qualified talent to their enterprises and where population growth is relatively flat, this “brain gain” – on top of the tens of thousands of Hoosiers we and the state’s other top colleges and universities graduate each year – is one of the most important contributions we make to Indiana.
To be clear, a commitment to educating the sons and daughters of Hoosiers and ensuring that the quality degrees we offer remain affordable and accessible to them will always be absolutely central to our mission. Case in point: the net cost of an IU education for in-state undergraduates has consistently remained among the lowest in the Big Ten. And we have instituted many measures to help students complete their degrees on time and sometimes ahead of time, helping them to start their careers more quickly and, in so doing, saving them thousands of dollars.
But this mission is not antithetical to our efforts to bring the best out-of-state and overseas students to Indiana. There is a well-rooted perception that these students dislodge and disadvantage native-born workers. This perception is simply false. Our state and nation have long histories of benefiting from a steady influx of brain power, no matter its origins. The intelligent, skilled and hardworking individuals who come here from other states or countries to pursue a quality education strengthen our state’s competitiveness. They enhance our economic vitality, diversity and culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, all of which the most successful companies and promising start-ups value tremendously.
Indeed, it is no secret that companies will go wherever the market is. Such is the case for the more than 800 foreign-owned companies in our state that employ over 152,000 Hoosiers. It is also the case that many of the students who cross state or national borders to pursue their college degrees will stay in Indiana to launch their own businesses in the tech or other fast-growing business sector, which can often lead to a ripple effect of new jobs and investment.
In other words, a brain gain means a gain for all who live, work and play in Indiana.
As the Amazon news indicates, the economic regions of our country that are on the rise are those that include major research universities that are focused on moving from brain drain to brain gain, meeting demands for knowledgeable workers and making the communities they serve more attractive to the top companies of today and tomorrow.