Brain drain or brain gain? Retaining local scholars
By Kris Leonhardt
MARSHFIELD – “How do we grow our own and keep our own?” asks Karen Olson, Marshfield Area Chamber of Commerce & Industry (MACCI) Business Development director.
The problem is not just an issue in our area, but in all rural areas throughout the state. How do we keep our academically distinguished students from leaving the community to find careers and establish lives in other areas?
“Everybody’s after those same people,” explains Olson. “They’re already being recruited while they are freshman yet.”
While Marshfield High School has one of the highest rates of Advanced Placement (AP) Scholar distinction, recent trends have shown an outward migration by these and other academically-successful students; however, times may be changing.
Growing our own
The Marshfield AP program is sponsored by the College Board and allows students to take college level courses while still in high school. The program is suited for those students who are ready for the next level and can save them thousands of dollars in tuition. It also makes it easier for them to enter the college of their choice and pursue double majors in a reasonable time period.
“I attended the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, where I received a degree in linguistics with a minor in Spanish and an emphasis in Arabic and other Middle Eastern languages,” said 2007 AP Scholar Jamie Robertson. “In large part because of the AP program, I was also able to finish my coursework a year early, allowing me to take advantage of a great off-campus program that focused on poverty, racism, and inequality in America.”
The 2015 Marshfield graduating class had nearly 44 percent of the students earn a score of 3 or better in at least one AP exam. Of the total Marshfield AP students that year, 82 percent scored 3 or higher with the national average at 61 percent and the state average at 69.
Compared to other schools in central Wisconsin, Marshfield students took a total of 1,036 exams, while totals for Wausau West fell around 350 and Stevens Point Area Senior High had slightly less than 500.
In addition, Marshfield High School has yielded a top AP male or female scholar 15 times since 1999.
The trend in recent years has been toward urbanization. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 2015 population estimates compared to 2010 Census numbers show that Wisconsin’s population has grown; however, while the total numbers have risen, 40 of the 72 counties have seen a decline. These counties seeing a decline are classified as rural, while the 26 counties defined as metropolitan show an increase of 91, 506.
Millennials account for a large population growth in suburbs and cities and one of the top destinations, Washington, D.C., has one suburb demonstrating an 82 percent increase in Millennials between 2007 and 2013.
Of the eight AP scholars surveyed for this article, two of the individuals currently live in the Washington D.C. area, with one in Marshfield and five in other metropolitan areas.
“Although I would like to say that I might return to Marshfield one day because my family is still there, it’s not very likely,” said Robertson, who currently lives in Washington, D.C. and works as a law clerk for the Department of Justice. “The job market, particularly for legal jobs, is just too small. And, what jobs there are probably wouldn’t help me pay off my student loans. I am looking to eventually move back to the Midwest, but probably won’t make it closer than ‘the Cities’ or Chicago.”
Keeping our own
With STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers increasing in the Marshfield area and financial institutions expanding, there are increasing opportunities for high skill, high pay positions; however, Marshfield ambassadors need to become creative to retain local graduates.
The measures become more desperate as you consider Manpower’s projection that by 2020, 123 million high skill, high pay jobs will be available with only 50 million people to fill them. In addition, as baby boomers leave the workforce, they will leave a huge hole as they account for 25 percent of the labor force in Wood County alone.
The North Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board also shows that higher education jobs will grow the fastest in the next 10 years.
Olson says that these are needs that are being addressed in the community by importing talent and exposing students to real world opportunities.
By creating programs, the Marshfield High School and MACCI work together to expose career possibilities to students at a young age. Local organizations and institutions have also aided in the creation of hands on educational experiences to promote local careers.
This provides a boomerang opportunity to create a situation that might hook the students.
“I don’t think people realize what we have here,” says Olson, “what kind of opportunities we have here.”
Providing a sense of community
The American Planning Association says that the best way to retain younger workforce is to mimic the appeal of the city by creating walkable neighborhoods and town centers.
Marshfield has addressed these needs through their trail system, historic districts and the introduction of the Wenzel Family Plaza.
In addition, local businesses have developed internal societies to provide both networking inside and outside of the workplace.
“Forward (Financial) goes out to a lot of job fair type events… and just trying to showcase what we have to offer and showing that we have the flexible benefits that Millennials and young professionals are looking for, so they can go out and do all of the fun things they want to do and have a nice work-life balance,” explained Jes Mannigel, marketing specialist at Forward Financial.
“Creating our internal culture and also doing a lot of community giving and volunteering. Forward is very supportive of employees leaving to go help out with (things) like the NOW (Nutrition on Weekends) program or other volunteer opportunities that they want to take advantage of that are important to them.
“Forward is also interested in making sure that any of their professionals are becoming engaged in the community, so if there is an organization that you want to be a part of they will pay your dues to be a part of that organization, which is a really great thing. Not every business can afford to do that or is willing to do it. It just really encourages people to want to be involved in those things and know that it is not (creating) a financial hardship on themselves to be involved and that they will have the time, because again Forward will make sure that they can go do those things.”
Local organizations also lend a hand in developing a sense of community to retain young professionals.
“Once they are here, (Marshfield Young Professionals) want to connect with them and get them further connected with the community and the organizations that are here. Find out what they are passionate about and make sure that they realize that those things exist in Marshfield,” said Mannigel.