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We're losing our minds Colleges grapple with state exodus of high school grads

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Almost 40 percent of New Jersey high school graduates enroll in colleges and universities out of state. Many don't come back.<br/>We explore how academia and business must come together to plug the brain drain and keep the workers of tomorrow at home.
Almost 40 percent of New Jersey high school graduates enroll in colleges and universities out of state. Many don't come back.
We explore how academia and business must come together to plug the brain drain and keep the workers of tomorrow at home. - ()

In recent years it’s been New Jersey that has suffered the nation’s largest exodus of college-bound youth, according to a study by the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, and that’s prompting broad concern more needs to be done to retain the state’s brightest young people.

“We need to get kids the kind of education that gets them good-paying jobs so then they can start life,” Rowan University President Dr. Ali Houshmand said. “This has a reverberating effect on the entire economy.”

Houshmand said almost 40 percent of New Jersey high school graduates enrolling in higher education attend colleges and universities outside the state. Considering the high cost to taxpayers to educate those students from kindergarten to 12th grade, New Jersey loses big time when the young people head out of state for college, he said.

“The worst part is many do not come back here to become taxpayers, so they deprive us of the taxes,” Houshmand added.

Michele Siekerka, president, NJBIA.
Michele Siekerka, president, NJBIA. - ()

The NJBIA, which has formed a task force to facilitate dialogue about the exodus, says 1,050,097 millennial-aged residents left New Jersey between 2007 and 2016. Just 866,506 moved into the state during that span, making for a net loss of 183,591 young people, the highest in the nation.

“We know that New Jersey is No. 1 in the nation for millennials moving outside of the state and we are concerned for two reasons,” said NJBIA President and CEO Michele Siekerka in an email. “They are our future workforce and we want to retain our future workforce. Second, we make a significant investment in our K-to-12 education of $20,000 per pupil per year multiplied by 13 years. By allowing the graduate to leave New Jersey, we are losing that return on investment.

The association recommends: promoting the benefits of New Jersey-based higher education; improving collaboration among government agencies, employers, educational institutions, nonprofits and industries; and publicizing career pathways and opportunities around the state.

Rowan’s Houshman suggests state colleges and employers forge partnerships to create ongoing internship programs as a means of boosting college enrollment here.

Camden County College President Donald Borden agrees that higher education officials need to collaborate with business leaders to find a solution to the outmigration of the state’s best and brightest.

"The worst part is many do not come back here to become taxpayers, so they deprive us of the taxes."

Dr. Ali Houshmand, president, Rowan University

“One way to keep your hand on the pulse on what’s going on is to talk to those people in industry,” Borden said. “It will give you a better opportunity to prepare your instructors [and] prepare your students with the challenges they’re going to face moving forward.”

Borden said citizens need a post-high school education to make a living in response to a changing labor market. It may mean an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s, or an advanced degree.

“Another huge issue in this country is the student debt crisis,” Borden said. “Collectively, we need to be very strategic about where they’re going to go to school, how they are going to afford to go to that school and what kind of debt they are bringing into their adult lives.”

Rutgers University-Camden Chancellor Phoebe Haddon said affordability of education is the most important factor in a person attaining higher education. She is yet another voice advocating for university and business leaders to collaborate.

Donald Borden, president, Camden County College
Donald Borden, president, Camden County College

“Students are very much concerned about incurring too much debt,” Haddon said. “We at Rutgers try to think about that in terms of accessing affordability.”

The Rutgers Future Scholars program annually engages 200 low-income, academically promising middle school students from families without prior college graduates, spokeswoman Dory Devlin said. In the summer before their eighth grade year, students become involved in pre-college/university events and mentoring that continue through their high school years, she said. 

Other programs at the school include Upward Bound and Upward Bound-Math Science. These provide young scholars with a series of specialized preparatory services, including tutoring, mentoring, advising, program courses and on-campus experiences with a research facility.

Rutgers-Camden also offers a Bridging the Gap program that allows lower-income families to reduce their college costs on a graduated scale. The program closes the gap between federal and state sources of financial support and the balance of tuition and the general campus fee, Devlin said.

"Collectively, we need to be very strategic about where they're going to go to school, how they are going to afford to go to that school and what kind of debt they are bringing into their adult lives."

Donald Borden, president, Camden County College

And at Rutgers-Newark, the Run to the Top financial aid program guarantees aid to cover full-time, in-state tuition and fees for incoming students whose adjusted gross family income is $60,000 or less. The program is offered to students who are Newark residents or New Jersey residents transferring from a New Jersey county college.

Elsewhere, Montclair State University is starting a new Presidential Scholars Program with the fall 2018 freshman class to attract high-achieving New Jersey high school graduates. The program will provide students with special academic and career preparation opportunities and the added support of a $5,000 scholarship for each of their four years of study.

“Montclair State is fortunate to have a track record of recruiting diverse and highly academically qualified students each year,” said Jeff Indiveri-Gant, Montclair State University’s director of undergraduate admissions, via email. “The incoming grade point average and other factors considered in the application process indicate to us that our applicant pool is becoming more, and not less, competitive each year.”

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy campaigned on a promise to fight the youth brain drain by advocating for an increase in aid to state colleges and vocational schools.

“Last week, he recommitted to bringing tuition-free community college to New Jersey and working to lower tuitions at state schools,” said Murphy spokesman Dan Bryan on Feb. 14. “By ameliorating the financial obstacle that college poses for many, the Governor wants to keep the state’s young people here in New Jersey to contribute to the strength of our economy and communities.”

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David Hutter

David Hutter


David Hutter grew up in Darien, Conn., and covers higher education, transportation and manufacturing for NJBIZ. He can be reached at dhutter@njbiz.com.

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