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State Spins Brain Drain Numbers: Freshman Imports Don’t Stick

Last updated on 2011.12.20

The South Dakota Board of Regents boasts that South Dakota has reversed "brain drain." This new Regents' study on net migration of new high school grads finds that while 1,564 of South Dakota's 9,142 2008 HS graduates (17%) went out of state for college, 2,134 young people from other states came here for their freshman year of college. That means South Dakota enjoyed a net gain of 570 college freshmen.

Of course, assuming that a net influx of college freshmen reverses brain drain assumes that college freshmen have brains. It also assumes that those freshmen stick around to apply those brains to the general welfare of South Dakota.

Origin Placed in SD Not Placed in SD
SD 69.4% 30.7%
not SD 30.7% 70.1%

SD 10,276 4,546
not SD 1,814 4,142

Alas, the Board of Regents' placement outcomes report suggests otherwise. The Regents look at placement of over 20,000 Regental system grads within one year of graduation. They find that 56% of out-of-state undergrads and 75% of out-of-state graduate students who complete their degrees in South Dakota are not working or pursuing advanced degrees in South Dakota within one year of graduation.

From what I can calculate from the Regents' numbers, however many freshman we may gain in recruitment, a few years later, the majority of them head back out, along with over 30% of our own young people. We appear to gain maybe 1,800 out-of-staters who stay after graduation, but we give up over 4,500 of our own to other states... which suggests, contrary to the Board of Regents' contention, that the brain drain continues.


  1. Chris 2011.12.19

    As a Minnesotan who came to South Dakota for college I can tell you I'm one of the few who stayed. The majority of my Minnesota friends who came here received their diploma and headed east for the Twin Cities. Plenty of my South Dakota friends did the same. Good analysis, Sir.

    [CAH: Glad to have you, Chris! I'm sorry we couldn't keep more of your friends.]

  2. tonyamert 2011.12.19

    A school by school breakdown may also shed more light on the subject. I would bet that 90+% of SDSM&T graduates don't stay in the state after graduation. Probably similar ratios for the USD medical school due to the "match".

  3. Michael Black 2011.12.19

    If the students can gain financially from moving out of state, why would they not do so?

    I saw one of my friends who has been pursuing a doctorate from DSU struggle to find employment. He ended up moving 300 miles away to secure a job - a job that is not in his doctoral area of study. Now he is living in state but there were no local jobs for him here. That might be the case for our college graduates: no jobs available in their area of study.

    I feel badly for my friend and graduates like him who want to stay in SD but cannot afford to do so.

  4. Stan Gibilisco 2011.12.19

    Besides the financial motive, I suspect that some students leave South Dakota because, let's face it, our state does not have a very high "sexiness coefficient."

    Miami, Los Angeles, Kona (Hawaii) ... I have done them all, and I can tell you, they have a certain appeal that South Dakota will never have. Much of that business is actually phony, but that fact remains for the expatriate to find out over time ...

    Today I reside in none of those places. I got over them. Basal cell carcinoma plays some role in my preference, as does a fondness for the feeling you get when you realize that you will almost certainly not get nine grams of lead to the back of the head.

    Tell all these things to someone about to graduate from Augustana, looking to work in the fashion industry or the computer industry, or simply hankering for adventure! Heck, even Austin, Texas allows topless sunbathing for women (found that out last night as I priced condos down there), and they're a high-tech Mecca (wonder whose list I'm on now for keyboarding in that character sequence?). They have a good music scene, too.

    Unless South Dakota can attract some big corporation like Microsoft or Google or Amazon, we'll always be an intellectual backwater, and we'll likely always have a brain drain.

    [CAH: Topless sunbathing in Austin? Tell me there's some way to connect that to Rick Perry!]

  5. LK 2011.12.19

    "Unless South Dakota can attract some big corporation like Microsoft or Google or Amazon, we’ll always be an intellectual backwater, and we’ll likely always have a brain drain."

    The cynic in me says that's the Rounds/Daugaard/Republican Party plan. Bring in low paying manufacturing jobs, pay people enough to live (sort of) and too poor to leave unless they get out while they're young. Knowledge sector jobs allow for mobility.

  6. larry kurtz 2011.12.19

    Turner Ranches could be that Microsoft or Google, Stan.

    Rewild the West.

  7. Michael Black 2011.12.19

    I've been past the Bad River Ranch headquarters. There is NOTHING for miles around. We met three vehicles on our drive from Ft Pierre to Murdo and one of those was a four-wheeler.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.12.19

    Tony, the Regents report includes an appendix with a table on percentage of in-state enrollees in the freshman class who entered in 2008:

    BHSU: 78.5%
    DSU: 76.3%
    NSU: 66.7%
    SDSMT: 58.0%
    SDSU: 63.6%
    USD: 68.4%
    System: 67.0%

    That doesn't account for all of the Mines out-migration, but if we assume out-of-staters leave SD at a much higher rate than in-staters, then we can assume that Mines, with the highest percentage of out-of-staters, would see higher brain drain. Of course, that factor would be counteracted if we had more high-tech industries to recruit those Mines graduates, wouldn't it?

  9. Tony Amert 2011.12.19

    CAH, yes, high tech jobs could help to retain SDSMT graduates in SD. I can't speak for all of SDSMT but the electrical engineering department only sends a handful of its graduates to SD companies. Out of state demand is very high for the graduates.

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