Between the Lines by David Lias Well, the South Dakota Legislature is back in session, and state lawmakers must tackle a myriad of issues in the coming weeks.
It�s also a time when it�s easy to recall the major topics often discussed by our elected officials while they were on the campaign trail.
They don�t necessarily promise a chicken in every pot � that�s asking a lot in a state with budget woes like South Dakota � but there are some issues that, probably because of their longevity, or difficulty in solving, always seemed to be discussed.
A common theme in local political campaigns is South Dakota�s �brain drain.�
Simply put, this is the trend of many of South Dakota�s brightest students to do one of two things: 1) Continue their education in another state after they graduate from high school, or 2) Attend USD or SDSU or the School of Mines or some other post-secondary school in the state and then flee across the border once they receive their diplomas.
The grass, it seems, is always greener in other states (no drought-related pun intended).
Maybe asking the South Dakota Legislature to somehow fix this problem is requesting just a bit too much.
South Dakota kids who continue their post-high school education in other states make that decision for a myriad of reasons.
Those motivating factors have nothing to do, it appears, with the quality of public and private colleges, universities and other centers of post-high learning in the state.
According to a report in the January fedgazette, a publication of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, such migration is hardly new. It might seem logical to expect that as our physical and functional mobility has increased � more and better highways, telecommunications advances � so too has our propensity to pack up for somewhere else.
But that doesn�t appear to be the case. The U.S. population grew 86 percent from 1950 to 2000, while the number of annual movers grew 55 percent during this period, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In fact, the number of movers � 43 million in 2000 � has remained virtually unchanged since the late 1980s.
Well, then more young people are moving, right? In fact, that does appear to be happening, although the increase isn�t overwhelming. In 1989, census figures show that 5.4 percent of 20- to 29-year-olds moved to a different state that year. In 2000, the annual rate had increased to 6.1 percent, easily the highest out-migration rate of any age group.
Research by Yolanda Kodrzycki of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston also found that the college-educated are more likely to migrate out of a state than those without a college education.
Start digging into the reasons why people move � especially young people � and you are bombarded with a dizzying array of explanations. But generally speaking, the young and educated move around a lot because they are, well, young and educated. Those very traits make people more footloose. Young people have high levels of mobility � they tend to not own houses or have children, things that would keep them in place � and they are looking for jobs, or obtaining the skills to get a good job. A few years ago the South Dakota Legislature tried to enact a scholarship program designed to keep college-aged students in South Dakota for their higher education experience. According to a source with the state Board of Regents, the proposal started with fairly broad support, �but it got bogged down� over whether the scholarships could legally go to both public and private institutions.
We can talk about creating scholarships, enacting a student loan forgiveness program to entice young people to be educated here, and maybe even create a new state office to focus on higher student retention in the state.
The goal of these and other brain drain programs would, naturally be to keep the best and brightest from high school from leaving the state.
But before we buy into any talk to try such programs to keep our youth here, we need to realize a couple things.
The small scale of most brain drain programs suggests that if there is any effect, even cumulatively, it is likely marginal.
And, as the fedgazette report suggests, the many facets of demand for workers � local vs. national markets, skill types, comparative wages � are not often connected to the supply of
graduates coming from local colleges and universities.
As a result, brain drain programs tend to keep priming the supply pump when closer attention to the demand engine might prove more useful. Paul Gottlieb, a Rutgers University economist, �if you ignore the demand side, you will fail.�
Yet this perspective is often absent when it comes to addressing the brain drain problem.
A study by two economists at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh looked at the seemingly large out-migration of graduates from that school, particularly those in high-demand technology fields.
It pointed out that if the state is producing too few math and science graduates supposedly sought by high-tech employers, then those who are produced should find a ready-made job market in state.
But the report found that math and science graduates were 50 percent more likely to leave the state than those in other fields.
This suggests that it is not the supply of high-tech workers, but the demand for them that is the problem.
How much demand will a newly graduated student with a bachelor�s or master�s degree find for his or her talents in the real world of South Dakota?
Demand is our challenge.