Recent statistics show that Connecticut is losing more young people between the ages of 25 and 34 than any other state. The results of this exodus could be catastrophic for the future of our state's economy.
As the baby boomers begin to retire over the next decade, a shortage of skilled workers is going to begin to appear across the country. This problem will be magnified in Connecticut as our companies will have fewer options for replacing an aging workforce. The current mass exodus of young and talented Connecticut workers could soon turn into a mass exodus of Connecticut business and industry. The rate of youth migration from our state must be slowed and eventually reversed if Connecticut is to have a bright future.
Keeping young people in Connecticut will take an integrated approach and long-term investments. The state must provide desirable living conditions for young people and financial incentives to encourage them to remain in the state.
The first step to retaining young people in Connecticut is to create a bustling metropolitan area. This means, first and foremost, reinforcing the major investment that has already been made in the capital city. The crime rate must be reduced, blight must be removed and commercial districts must be reinvigorated. The recent boom in construction of apartments and condos downtown should be encouraged to continue with an eye toward attracting young people to the city. Implementing such policies means a long-term financial commitment from the state, but is necessary to change the fortunes of Hartford.
Over the past decade, the state has made such a long-term investment in our flagship public university. The UConn 2000 and UConn 21st Century programs have invested more than a billion dollars of state funds in the University of Connecticut. This money has helped transform what was once a mediocre public university into the top public institution in New England. This investment in education, however, is being eroded as UConn graduates use their valuable degrees to find work in other states. In order to see a return on our investments in higher education, we must keep a higher percentage of our recent graduates in the state.
One way to do this would be to entice graduates with loan forgiveness programs, if they stay and work in the state for five years following graduation. Such programs already exist for students with engineering degrees or who are math and science teachers. These programs could be extended to cover other degrees.
Another possibility may be to offer in-state tuition at UConn to out-of-state residents who enroll in a program with similar obligations to the loan reimbursement program. A failure to meet the requirement to work in Connecticut for five years would revert the tuition waiver back to a student loan that must be paid back.
Such a program would have several beneficial effects. First, it would increase the number of out-of-state applicants to UConn, allowing UConn to be more selective in its acceptance of out-of-state students. This would boost the prestige and quality of the university. More important, it would allow the state to keep a higher percentage of out-of-state students, who all too often come to Connecticut for their education on their way to somewhere else. Over time, our brain drain could become a brain gain.
Of course neither of these initiatives would come without a cost. Properly redeveloping Hartford would likely cost billons of dollars over a period of years. Waiving out-of-state tuition and granting loan reimbursements to UConn graduates alone could cost tens of millions of dollars a year. The cost of doing nothing, however, will likely be much higher. Young people are the future of Connecticut, and right now our future is leaving the state.
Joshua Wojcik, 25, of Danielson, is a clerk in the Connecticut State Legislature to the select committee on veteran's affairs.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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