Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Study Abroad in Ohio

International education is big business. Ohio is no exception. But the global churn of highly-skilled talent is also vital for local economic development:

"It's really critical to the economic future of Ohio because the businesses that operate in Ohio know they have to compete globally for customers and sales," Chancellor Eric D. Fingerhut said yesterday. "They need employees who can work with their international counterparts and students who have global exposure and understanding."

Too bad the Ohio leadership doesn't apply this framework to domestic migration. The talent exchanges with other states are just as important as the global connections. Brain drain hysteria tends to rule even the most open and well-educated minds.

In his office, Dr. Snider pulls out a placard and points to a shaded zone representing a 30-minute drive to campus, the area responsible for more than 80 percent of the campus enrollment. The problem, he says, is population in that zone is projected to decline by 12 percent through 2016.

"We have got to supplement that with other populations," Dr. Snider said. "International students, because of the value they add through diversity, are a terrific opportunity."

I'm still struck by the obvious about face from the typical brain drain narrative. Why is the attraction imperative so obvious to university administrators but lost on politicians? Declining student populations are a big threat to the eds and meds economy. This puts a different spin on Pittsburgh's proposed tuition tax, which seeks to meet ballooning municipal pension obligations via the local higher education industry.

I doubt this surcharge would affect enrollment, but it does make clear the struggles to reconcile a shrinking city with vibrant local universities and colleges. We're still not sure how to best leverage these regional knowledge engines given the growing disconnect between those locally trained and those locally employed. There seems to be little interest in the network located outside of the state and the economic opportunities it presents.

I'll just keep scratching my head.

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