Rob Oliver Editorial Says Augie Boasts Brain Gain - Not Drain

Majority of graduates stay in South Dakota

Rob C. Oliver, Augustana College
Published in Argus Leader December 6, 2010

I would like to commend the Argus Leader for its Oct. 8 editorial headlined: "Work to keep 'brain drain' flowing right way."

It is exciting, indeed, to note that a promising trend has emerged: For every 100 South Dakota students who leave the state for higher education, 123 students from outside the state choose to come to South Dakota for their collegiate studies.

The real question posed by the editorial is this: Once students from outside the state are here, do our communities offer ample career opportunities to keep them here after they graduate? "... it's part of a complex brain-drain equation. Just because young people are educated here doesn't mean they'll stay here, whether they're from South Dakota or some other state," the editorial stated.

I feel compelled to inform readers that Augustana College long has been a net importer of intellectual capital to South Dakota. Because we are a private college and have no in-state/out-of-state cost differential, we always have recruited bright young men and women from outside of South Dakota to attend. In fact, for many years the majority of Augustana students have come from out of state.

Many even come from outside the United States. This fall we enrolled our largest-ever group of international students: 79 students from six continents representing 23 countries.

The Augustana Career Center tracks our graduates once they leave us, and we are pleased to report that the majority of our graduates choose to stay and work in South Dakota, adding to the talented reservoir of professionals who contribute to our state's economy and to the future viability of cities and towns east and west of the Missouri River.

Consider these statistics:

  • During the past five years, 1,752 men and women have earned undergraduate degrees from Augustana College. Of those seeking employment upon graduation, 97.6 percent report success in securing employment in their area of study (99 percent in 2005, 2007 and 2008).
  • 434 (25 percent) have continued their education in graduate or professional schools, many attending South Dakota educational institutions. Medical school, law school and business and graduate programs in the sciences are common.
  • Of the 1,223 reporting employment, 59.4 percent are employed in South Dakota, and the trend is increasing - from 54 percent in 2005 to 64 percent in 2009, with a peak of 69 percent in the 2008 graduating class.
  • During that time, 108 South Dakota residents graduated and left the state for employment while 182 students originating from outside of South Dakota stayed in the state to work, a replacement rate of 168 percent.
  • In 2008, a year in which the United States experienced its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, we experienced a positive replacement rate of 341 percent, indicating that the opportunities in South Dakota were superior to those in competing states.

Many of our students from outside the state tell us they come to Augustana because of the extensive research opportunities available to our undergraduates. In 2010, 59 Augustana students contributed to biology-, chemistry-, biomedical- and physics-focused research projects led by our faculty members and mentors at partner institutions and funded by institutional grants from agencies such as the South Dakota Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network program, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health through the Sanford School of Medicine at the University of South Dakota.

Thanks to our exceptional faculty and low student-to-professor ratios, our students have the chance to conduct research alongside our faculty scientists as early as their freshman year.

Other students come because of our exceptional performing, visual and literary arts opportunities. This year, almost 25 percent of our student body participates in music and theatrical ensembles alone.

Others report choosing Augustana because of our extensive overseas opportunities. Almost half of our students travel abroad during their college careers.

At Augustana we work hard every day, as the editorial suggests, to "foster an attitude that starting a career in South Dakota isn't settling for second best." Our data suggests we are succeeding in that effort.

As parents, mentors, teachers, professionals and fellow citizens, we need to work together to convey to the young people in our state that they don't need to go away to go far. At the same time, we need to continue our efforts to show those from outside our state the opportunities living and working in South Dakota can offer.

Kelly Sprecher
Director of Communications and Media Relations
Phone: 605.274.5526