Turns out Utah doesn't have a "brain drain" after all.
A new report by the Utah Foundation shows that 71 percent of Utah natives who graduate from public and private colleges and universities remain in the Beehive State. Moreover, 43 percent of out-of-state student also stay in Utah upon graduation.
Not surprisingly, native Utahns stay put because they want to remain close to their families. They also enjoy Utah's low cost of living, "nice" communities and recreational activities. And for out-of-staters? They, too, relish Utah's quality of life and relatively low cost of living.
The good news is that Utah's investment in higher education is producing considerable dividends. The accompanying challenge is that the state must do more to develop or attract high-paying jobs so that recent graduates can move up in the world of work without having to leave Utah.
Utah's purported "brain drain" was the subject of some debate on Utah's Capitol Hill earlier this year. To stem the tide, one state lawmaker proposed that the state require graduates of Utah's state colleges and universities to pay back part of their in-state college tuition if they left the state to work.
Lawmakers made quick work of deflating that trial balloon. One senator even joked that the state could track students with ankle bracelets that would set off an alarm if they left the state.
It's true that taxpayers heavily subsidize college degrees earned at public institutions, although students have been paying increasingly higher tuitions in recent years. But the rationale behind the public subsidy of state colleges and universities is that the public ultimately benefits from highly educated people. For instance, today's pre-law major may be tomorrow's prosecutor. A biology major may someday eradicate certain diseases through genetic research. The investment pays exponential dividends over time.
Utah's best hedge against the so-called "brain drain" is a robust, booming economy with many good-paying jobs. Those jobs will help support Utah's system of higher of education, which, in turn, will produce the next generation of highly trained, highly skilled and well-educated workers.