Wisconsin faces ‘brain drain’ trend

More college graduates leave the state

More than 1,500 students said goodbye to their college careers Sunday.

UW-La Crosse students graduated in two ceremonies in front of a packed crowd at the La Crosse Center. Chancellor Joe Gow and a parade of other professors gave the grads some final words of advice before the students leave to begin that job search.

For a lot of Wisconsin students, finding a job means leaving the state. It’s known as the brain drain, and some experts say it’s becoming a big problem for Wisconsin.

Wisconsin has lost a net of about 70,000 college graduates in the past five years, according to Morris Davis, academic director of the James Graaskamp Center for Real Estate. In comparison, Davis says Minnesota gains about 3,000 grads a year.

Several UW-La Crosse grads said they will pursue opportunities outside Wisconsin, including Taylor Smith, who is taking a job in South Carolina.

“La Crosse has been great, but I’m excited to go somewhere new and try something different,” she said.

She’s not alone. Graduate Matthew Waller plans to check out of Wisconsin, as well.

“[Wisconsin] has this very towny small-town kind of vibe – I’d like to go somewhere where I can get lost,” he said.

For some, it’s a change of scenery – for others, it’s the chance for adventure after the routine pomp and circumstance of college.

“It’s something new to broaden my horizons,” Smith said.

There’s no clear-cut explanation for the mass flight of college graduates, but Davis has offered up some suggestions for how Wisconsin can convince them to stay.  One idea is to offer a two-tiered education system, where students who commit to staying inside the state after college pay a reduced tuition price.

The brain drain problem is even bigger for some neighboring states, particularly for Michigan. According to Davis, that state loses about 80,000 thousand college grads a year – more than five times the number Wisconsin is losing.