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Stacey Otts, a senior at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., studies in one of the school's chemistry labs.
Associated Press/Photo by Joseph C. Garza
Stacey Otts, a senior at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., studies in one of the school's chemistry labs.

‘Brain drain’ sucks Indiana dry

Economy | While Indianapolis suburbs make the list of best places to live, the state has a hard time convincing college graduates to stay

TERRE HAUTE, Ind.— Growing up in the Indianapolis suburb of Brownsburg, Ind., Adam Carlson had the unique opportunity to drive east to the city for concerts or museums, or west to enjoy cookouts and bonfires with his friends in rural communities.

Carlson’s options for downtown culture or quiet country life each weekend represent what a lot of people love about Indiana: variety. It’s not just the Hoosiers who like it, either. Brownsburg was listed in Money Magazine’s 100 Best Places to Live, along with three other Indianapolis suburbs. 

Indianapolis and the state itself are winning awards and gaining notoriety for offering value and opportunity in the midst of a sluggish economy. Politically, the state turned heads with its right-to-work policy changes, and by posting a $2 billion surplus for 2012, which resulted in an automatic tax rebate for Indiana taxpayers.

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Despite all the accolades and a job market that seems to flourish, Indiana finds itself on a list envied by none: The Wall Street Journal’s “The Worst States for Keeping College Grads.” 

Indiana is still one of the states suffering the most from “brain drain,” an affliction not yet healed by the low cost of living, tax breaks, or lower unemployment rates. The loss of college graduates has slowed in recent years, but it’s still higher than neighboring states. Only 50 percent of Indiana University’s graduates, and 60 percent of all graduates, will stay in the state, according to a report from NPR.

Chad Kingsolver, who grew up in Frankfurt, Ind., is about to graduate from Purdue University with a degree in mechanical engineering technology. Although both sides of his family are farmers, Kingsolver does not plan to continue the tradition in his small home town.

Kingsolver did get an offer from a company in Frankfurt, but when John Deere offered him a job in East Molene, Ill., he said it was a “no brainer.”

“Growing up, John Deere and Case International Harvester were two companies I always thought it would be great to work for,” he said. 

Although the cost of living will be a little higher for Kingsolver when he moves to Davenport, Iowa, the John Deere position offered a better salary and benefits than either of the two companies in Indiana.

Many times, though, recent graduates will move out of state, simply because they have no other option. 

That was the case for Carlson, a civil engineering senior who will graduate from Rose Hulman Institute of Technology (RHIT) this May. When Anchor QEA, an engineering consulting firm in Seattle offered Carlson a position, he took it not only because it was attractive and exciting, but also because he had yet to receive any other job offers.

Only about 30 percent of RHIT’s graduates stay in Indiana. Kevin Hewerdine, the school’s career services director, told local television station WTHI 10 the state needs more employers: “Indiana companies do a fabulous job. They pay well, and for our students that want to stay in Indiana, it's a great choice. Unfortunately there's just not enough of them.”

Even though Carlson will soon hold a degree from RHIT, which is listed by US News Best College Rankings as the number one college for engineering (among schools that don’t offer doctorates), he felt it would be wise to accept his first offer.

“Some people get picky, and as soon as they graduate, they don’t have anything to go with,” he said.

Carlson won’t exactly be dragging his feet to the airport when he flies to Washington, though, because he’s excited about the lifestyle Seattle has to offer. Carlson also found both the culture and climate of Seattle attractive when he flew out for the job interview.

But culture and coastal climates don’t come cheap. Carlson wants to live close enough to walk to Anchor QEA’s downtown location, so he’s weighing his options of studio and one-bedroom apartments, hoping to pay about $1,000 a month in rent. 

Meanwhile, back in Indianapolis, the average one bedroom apartment sets residents back just $620 a month, according to ApartmentRatings.com.

While Carlson is looking forward to relocating, he said he would have considered taking a job close to home, living with his parents, and chipping away at his student loans. Despite enjoying the West Coast climate, he’ll miss his family and Indiana’s “quiet, rural atmosphere.”

Country life and cost of living are nice, but not enough to convince most of Indiana’s college graduates to stick around. “I’ve been in Indiana my whole life,” Kingsolver said. “I’m excited to venture off and see what it’s all about.”

Thomas Hardesty
Thomas Hardesty

Thomas is a recent graduate of Indiana State University who teaches high school and writes part time for WORLD. He and his wife live in Clinton, Indiana.

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