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Immigrants are already saving Michigan

If not for well-educated immigrants from Asia and Europe, Michigan would be losing thousands more college-educated residents every year, according to new U.S. Census data. The numbers hint at the potential brain gain the state could get from a sharp increase in immigration.

Michigan experienced a net annual loss of nearly 19,000 college graduates over the last five years to other states, a longstanding trend for the state. But those losses were partially offset by immigrants from the Far East and Europe, with more than half of the more than 14,000 immigrants over age 25 bringing a college degree with them.

All told, immigration from around the globe brought an estimated 11,000 college graduates to the state each year, the data shows.

What’s not known, however, is how many college-educated Michigan residents leave the country each year because the data is gleaned from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which doesn’t track those leaving the U.S.

Michigan’s brain drain was compounded by the Great Recession, yet has eased since the worst of it more than five years ago. But the new census numbers show the state is still losing more than 1,000 college grads each year to California, Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, Texas and Illinois.

The data also show that Michigan continues to slip further behind the national average in the percentage of adults with a college degree, with just under 26 percent having a bachelor’s degree or better, compared with the national rate of 28.5 percent.

Of those leaving Michigan, more than 42 percent have a college degree, compared with 38 percent of those who move to Michigan from other states. But internationally, more than half of the better than 18,000 adult immigrants to Michigan from Asia and Europe have a college degree.

Those numbers have attracted interest from Gov. Rick Snyder, who recently proposed a state office to promote immigration. Snyder wants to bring 50,000 high-skilled immigrants to Detroit as part of his revitalization plan.

Legislators too are looking at brain drain. Modeled after an effort in Maine to retain that state’s college grads, state Rep. Andy Schor (D-Lansing) and state Sen. Glenn Anderson (D-Westland) are sponsoring bills that would give recent grads of Michigan universities and colleges a tax break if they stayed in the state.

The bills would make them eligible for a tax credit equal to one-half their annual student loan bill for five years, with a cap currently anticipated to be $1,500 annually.

“It’s saying, ‘You got educated here and we value your talent and here’s a tax credit,’ ” Schor said. “Why wouldn’t we want to create an incentive for people to stay here?”

The proposal is one attack on a gnawing problem: After the state poured hundreds of millions into higher education, its leaders are seeing so many of the state’s graduates seek their fortune in Chicago, New York or Minneapolis.

“I want to stop the flow of those graduates,” Anderson said.

College graduates have long been more likely to move, research shows. Indeed, only 23 percent of movers within Michigan have a college degree.

The latest data, released last week, also shows that Florida remains the No. 1 destination for all Michigan movers, attracting more than 18,000 people during the survey’s five-year span. Ohio is No. 2, then Texas, California and Illinois.

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