Brain Drain

Too Many of Our Top Students Leave the State—And Never Return

Richard L. McCormick, President
As published in the Spring 05’ issue of Rutgers Magazine

New Jersey’s young people are high achievers. Our state’s fourth and eighth graders, for example, earn among the highest scores in reading on national assessments. Students in our fine public high schools lead all states in Advanced Placement exam scores. These talented students benefit from a public investment in primary and secondary schools that consistently ranks among the most generous in the nation. Unfortunately, our state does not match this level of support for higher education, and so New Jersey loses far too many of these students when it comes time for college. Consider these statistics:

  • More than 40 percent of New Jersey high school seniors leave to enroll in other states, more than double the national rate.
  • For every seven students New Jersey loses, only one student from another state comes to study at a New Jersey college or university.
  • More than 93 percent of New Jersey’s brightest students—those who score above 1300 on the SAT—send their scores (and therefore most likely apply) mainly to out-of-state schools.

Why should we care that so many of our brightest students leave New Jersey for college? Because many of them never come back—and that’s not only bad for state pride but also bad for our state economy. The states that these talented young people adopt become more attractive to knowledge-driven industries, while we lose ground.

This brain drain needs to stop. New Jersey can—and should—expect more.

We have plenty of models to follow. California, Michigan, and North Carolina, for example, are states that are gaining from key investments in state-of-the-art facilities, attractive campuses, and outstanding faculty. Top students flock to their well-known national universities in Berkeley, Ann Arbor, and Chapel Hill. Not surprisingly, these states rank among the very best in retaining their students; in fact, only about 1 in 11 North Carolina students leaves the state for college. And the ability of these universities to attract the very best students helps fulfill their mission as engines of economic development.

A critical step in stemming New Jersey’s brain drain is to put forth the investments that will make Rutgers and our fellow colleges and universities a clear first choice for more of our leading students. It’s time we started catching up: New Jersey ranks 39th nationally in state and local funding for higher education on a per capita basis, and 47th in higher education spending per $1,000 of personal income.

Make no mistake, New Jersey cares deeply about education. Now higher education needs to enjoy the same kind of investments we make in primary and secondary schools. I am happy to say that a dedicated group of people—the Friends of Rutgers—is working hard to increase public support for the university. I invite you to read more about them on page 16 and to sign up. Helping increase New Jersey’s investment in Rutgers is the right thing to do for our young adults and their families; it is the wise thing to do for our knowledge-based economy.