New Jersey is losing about 20,000 college graduates to other states per year, causing leaders in education, government and commerce to try to stem the out-migration known as the brain drain.
This theme took center stage Friday at Rutgers University-New Brunswick at a conference hosted by the Rutgers Business School’s Institute for Corporate Social Innovation.
New Jersey has a high cost of living that causes young adults to move away and not return because they cannot afford to live in the state. The institute says that New Jersey has had a net loss of more than 200,000 young people over the past decade. A series of speakers examined this problem.
U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-6th District, explained that a discussion surrounding the brain drain must examine the factors that determine quality of life in a given geographic area. College students choose a college based on community offerings that includes nightlife, theaters, and museums, Pallone said.
“Young people make decisions based on their quality of life,” Pallone said.
Four-year universities are partnering with two-year community colleges to form transfer agreements so that a student earns an associate degree from the community college and transfers to the university and earns a bachelor’s degree in two additional years for a total of four years. The student saves money by studying at a community college for the first two years.
“You cannot entice your kids just by saying stay in the state,” Pallone said.
High school technical programs have been reduced, Pallone said. However, the economy needs professional trades that require highly skilled training. Many professional trades have unfilled jobs.
New Jersey Economic Development Authority Chief Executive Officer Tim Sullivan called the brain drain a fundamental challenge. He called New Jersey a state of choice based on its strong public schools, although he lamented that property taxes are too high.
Gov. Phil Murphy unveiled the Garden State Guarantee in February that aims to attract New Jersey high school graduates to New Jersey colleges. Under the guarantee, money would be allocated as direct operating aid to 13 New Jersey public universities to cover the students’ cost of tuition.
Young people make decisions based on their quality of life.
– U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone
New Jersey boasts talent and location that make it desirable, Sullivan said. He also said New Jersey is part of the innovation economy, yet is competing with other states for entrepreneurs and innovators.
“We need to have more young companies grow and scale into mid-sized companies,” Sullivan said. “That is the biggest net job creation in America.”
“We are seeing more companies want walkable mixed-use development where they live and where they work,” Sullivan said. By contrast, New Jersey infrastructure was designed around motorists exclusively from the 1960s to the 1980s. “When the governor talks about investing in New Jersey Transit, he is talking about infrastructure.” Sullivan said Murphy is focused on mass transit-oriented development, walkability of cities, a historic preservation tax credit, and a brownfields tax credit.
However, Sullivan feels the generation that is nearing retirement should also stay in New Jersey. “There are plenty of people age 65 and older who do not want to move to Florida or South Carolina,” Sullivan said. “They want to stay close to their kids [in New Jersey.]”
Steve Van Kuiken is a senior partner at management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. He believes in order to turn the tide of the brain drain New Jersey needs more entrepreneurs who create companies that begin with a handful of employees and then grow exponentially.
Rutgers University Honors College student Juliet Petillo is a second-year student. She recalled New Jersey high school students facing a stigma of attending a New Jersey public university but believes the Rutgers Honors College is doing a great job of keeping students in New Jersey.
Editor’s Note: This item was updated on March 9 at 11:38 am to correct a previous version which stated the New Jersey’s Higher Education Student Assistance Authority would allocate the funds.