There they go again. A year after northeast Indiana students graduated from college in 2012-13, just over 30% of them were no longer in the region. Three years after graduation, the number was just over 47%. And five years after graduation, almost 57% of northeast Indiana college graduates were no longer in the 11-county region, an analysis by Northeast Indiana Works showed.
Among high school graduates, the statistics were only slightly more reassuring: Just over 46% were no longer here five years after receiving their diplomas.
Such statistics are, of course, worrisome for a region fighting valiantly to improve its viability as a place to live, raise a family and earn a decent living. The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership's Road To One Million campaign is built on the premise that significantly increasing our population — last year, it was almost 785,000 — is a key to expanding our economy. Losing roughly half our high-school and college graduates just a few years out of school isn't likely to help us meet that goal.
There are efforts under way that may improve those numbers. But even with improvement, our region has to have a better strategy for growth than just retaining residents. Growing as a region also means becoming the kind of place that attracts new residents.
The efforts by Fort Wayne and other northeast Indiana communities to improve quality of life and diversify business opportunities are helping to attract new residents as well as helping persuade more young residents to stay. "Last year, more people moved in than moved out of Allen County," Blakeman said. "That looks as if we're doing something right."
Blessed with many great educational institutions, Indiana has long struggled with the problem of brain drain statewide. Students come from elsewhere to attend Indiana University, Ball State, Purdue or Notre Dame and then move somewhere else, taking all that training and potential out of state. Only a third of biological-science graduates, for instance, find employment in Indiana, and the state also loses more than half of its engineering and computer and information-science grads, Building Indiana magazine reported earlier this year.
In a statement accompanying last week's analysis, Northeast Indiana Works President Edmond O'Neal said there are many efforts under way to make it easier for those graduates who want to stay here, including training programs for workers, education/business partnerships; internship programs for students; externship programs for teachers; and worker training programs.
Then, too, some of those young people may have left the region and state for more than five years to seek advanced degrees or professional experience they may eventually bring back home. That's yet another reason to continue to work on quality-of-life issues. And there's progress on another front: Last month, Northeast Indiana Works said the latest U.S. Census figures through 2017 show that more people in our region are earning high school degrees or their equivalents.
None of that, of course, argues for complacency. Even if they may eventually be lured back, too many of our graduates feel compelled to leave. As O'Neal noted, we need to keep asking why.