Ohio is one of many states across the country afflicted with brain drain. Six of 10 college students surveyed by the Fordham Institution plan to leave Ohio after graduating. To slow and eventually reverse the trend, Ohio has three goals: to graduate more students, retain more graduates and attract more degree holders from out of state. The editorial board of The Miami Student realizes the dire consequences if brain drain continues unchecked and urges the state to address the source fueling the phenomenon.
It is not Miami University’s job to ensure its graduates stay in Ohio. Miami’s primary concern is to educate its students and help those graduates attain the best jobs possible, in state or out. So despite what the Ohio Board of Regents maintains, President David Hodge’s priorities for Miami are what they should be. The university does not need to be the state’s personal cheerleader. It is the state’s job to give the university’s graduates the opportunities that will encourage them to stay. Without job opportunities, little will convince graduates to make Ohio their permanent residence.
Rather than target undergraduate institutions, the state should focus on graduate programs. Today students are under pressure to continue their education longer to attain a job in the sluggish economy. As Hodge remarked, students often leave the state to attend graduate school, medical school and law school. Currently, these programs cause students to leave Ohio. Ohio needs to play up the programs available here. This would help retain undergraduates initially after graduation. It could also help retain graduates in the long run because students who attend medical school or law school are likely to establish professional contacts wherever they work. Moreover, they mingle with college graduates who work and live in the area. These work and recreational contacts will encourage students to stay in the state.
The state could also offer more incentives to encourage graduates to remain in Ohio. In addition to the recent housing program (“Program to retain Ohio grads needs reworking,” Oct. 27), Ohio could offer a state income tax break to keep graduates and attract those from other states. It might also consider refunding a portion of tuition for recent graduates who stay in Ohio for a certain length of time. These programs could become costly, but the state will have to invest money at some point in time to address this issue.
Still, Ohio’s problem isn’t just one of retention. The state is struggling to attract young professionals from other states. If Ohio can’t keep the people who grew up in the state, how can it expect to attract people from outside the state? By addressing its ability to retain, Ohio can simultaneously address its ability to attract. The two are closely related. As it stands, people don’t dislike Ohio without reason. They dislike its lack of opportunity. Students naturally want jobs when they graduate. The state should focus its energy on job creation strategies that will bring high-tech and green jobs.
Apart from jobs, young people are looking for other young people with which to start their new lives. The state needs to advertise its cities and the cities need to redevelop. Forbes ranked Cleveland as the No. 14 best city for singles. Three of Ohio’s cities were in the top 40. Thus far, Forbes is doing a better job marketing Ohio than Ohio is. Just based on the title of Ohio’s tourism campaign targeting young professionals, the “Ohio is just too fun for one day,” campaign needs reworked. Touting special events and festivals like the Harveysburg Renaissance Festival or the Waynesville Sauerkraut Festival is not going to convince graduates that Ohio is the place to be. In fact, the strategy of advertising festivals seems to target temporary visitors, which isn’t surprising since it comes from the Ohio Tourism Division, which tasked with revamping Ohio’s image. But Ohio isn’t marketing a weekend, it’s marketing a lifetime. Tourists may be interested in festivals, prospective residents of the younger persuasion are more interested in the culture and nightlife of the cities. To be successful the Ohio Tourism Division needs to understand what young people want. As shown by the chosen title of their plan, such an understanding is lacking.
Ohio does have an image problem; it’s an unknown and when it is known, it’s boring. Ohio may not have the huge metropolises, such as New York or Chicago, but many states do not either. Besides, right now Newport in Northern Kentucky eclipses Cincinnati. Ohio doesn’t need to aim for establishing a Chicago, but it needs to cultivate its urban areas by working with real estate to redevelop its cities. It needs to create affordable living spaces near restaurants and places of amusement almost like a town square. Right now Cincinnati is disjointed. If you ask a young person where they would go in downtown Cincinnati no one would name a particular street. Cincinnati could use a strip, a few blocks concentrated with hangout spots.
The Ohio Board of Regents and Ohio Tourism Division must collaborate on this project if it is to have any chance of success. They must find a way to make Ohio a place were young people can both find a job and enjoy the lifestyle typically associated with them.