Albion’s Talent Bleed: Missing Our Best Opportunity?
written by Patrick McLean, director of the Gerald R. Ford Institute for Leadership in Public Policy and Service at Albion College
It’s not always popular to say this around these parts, but I went to graduate school at Ohio State University and lived for 17 years in Columbus. While Michiganders tend to dislike OSU’s sports teams, the city has been an economic powerhouse for the last three decades and is the envy of cities all over the Midwest. One of the secrets of Ohio’s capital city’s economic success is that thousands of Ohio State graduates, drawn to Columbus from all over the world, stay put after they graduate. They start businesses, they work for governments and non-profits, they buy houses and they start families. Not only do they begin their emotional investment in Columbus while they are students, but that investment grows, along with their monetary investments, for decades following their time at Ohio State.
No one finds it odd that Ohio State grads stay in Columbus, nor would anyone find it strange that University of Michigan grads stay in Ann Arbor or southeastern Michigan after they graduate. But for Albion College graduates, the expectation is four years and done. Albion students increasingly become engaged in their host community during their time as students, but then they leave and we start all over again with another class. Changing this pattern and the expectation that students will leave after graduation from the college represents a real challenge but also a tremendous opportunity.
There are plenty of people in Albion who devote real effort to bringing new people and businesses to the community. Staff at the Chamber of Commerce, the Albion Economic Development Corporation, and the Albion Reinvestment Corporation are working tirelessly to promote the very real opportunities available in Albion. But it is much easier to keep someone who is already here than to attract someone who knows nothing about the town. Arguably Albion needs to do both: keep existing businesses and people at the same time as promoting Albion to newcomers. But we have lost sight of the tremendous opportunity that having 1,600 bright young minds in our midst every year offers us.
Imagine if we were to keep just 10 to 15 graduates each year over a ten year period. Albion’s population would grow by as much as 375 over the decade (factoring in marriage and children), reversing the multi-decade pattern of population decline. This would, in turn, positively impact businesses in the area, city tax collections, and the housing market. If this kind of strategy were combined with an effort to keep Albion seniors here, it would be possible to see net positive changes of 500 people per decade.
Keeping Albion College graduates in Albion will require intentionality. We will need support for entrepreneurship. We will need to continue to reshape the downtown, making living here attractive for those who might stay as residents but still work in surrounding communities. We will need more and better housing. We will need to expand the capacity of our non-profit sector, allowing such organizations to expand their programming and, in the process, hire young talent.
There is no question that Albion College has made a tremendous commitment to the city of Albion, especially over the last five to ten years. There is much to be proud of and to celebrate. But we should keep more of our students here to join in that celebration.
The author, Patrick McLean, is the director of the Gerald R. Ford Institute for Leadership in Public Policy and Service at Albion College.