Stroebel: Stemming Wisconsin's Brain Drain
In recent years, Wisconsin has seen a large exodus of college graduates seeking opportunities in other states. According to a study by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Morris Davis, on average the state lost roughly 14,000 college graduates per year between 2008 and 2012. Almost half of those who left were young adults between the ages of 21 and 24 who recently obtained degrees. This loss of talent comes with consequences. This "brain drain" stunts entrepreneurial efforts, shrinks the tax base and ultimately hinders the state's overall ability to innovate and grow economically.
There is extensive evidence establishing that a city or state's future economic prosperity is directly tied to its population of young, educated workers. In other words, it is crucial to retain the state's best and brightest after graduation in order to maintain robust economic progress. This is especially true given that by 2020, 62% of jobs in Wisconsin will require a postsecondary degree, as reported by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
What makes our "brain drain" even more troubling is that currently, thousands of unfilled jobs exist in the state because candidates lack the necessary education and/or skill set. As some job sectors decline, there has been a rapid uptick of available jobs in the technology industry and other skilled trade areas.
Employers consistently point out that although job openings exist, the state is simply not doing its part to catch up with the demand. As a matter of fact, a study by ManpowerGroup shows the supply of people with skills and education simply does not match the demand companies have for those skills and education. There is a greater demand for people who have obtained an associate or bachelor's degree than what the state currently has available.
With these issues in mind, I recently unveiled a bill that seeks to entice the best and brightest high school students to remain here for college and, ultimately, work here and put down roots after graduation. Many of these students will be the next entrepreneurs, job creators, benefactors and leaders who will shape the future of our state. To accomplish this, my bill would restructure the current Academic Excellence Higher Education Scholarship, which is awarded to high school seniors statewide finishing at or near the top of their class.
Untouched since the early 1990s, the program has becoming increasingly less effective in accomplishing its goal of keeping the best and brightest here. Under the proposed changes, the scholarship amount would be increased to equal the tuition and fees of the in-state college or university attended, or to the tuition and fees of UW-Madison if the student attends a private university. The key, however, would be that 50% of the award would be in the form of a traditional tuition scholarship, and the other half would be distributed to the student in the form of a tax credit that may be used to offset state income tax obligations for the first five years following graduation — but only if the graduate lives in Wisconsin and earns a majority of his or her income in-state.
Not only would this encourage our best high school students to stay in Wisconsin, it would also provide a financial incentive for these graduates to share and develop their talents in-state, benefiting everyone. Without a doubt, stemming the "brain drain" will require a multipronged effort from the business community, alumni associations and many others, but as legislators we cannot sit idly by as thousands of our college graduates leave the state.
Duey Stroebel is a Republican state senator from Cedarburg.