2016-04-07 / Opinions

The VIEW from Lansing

Reverse Scholarships will draw talent


Sen. Phil Pavlov Sen. Phil Pavlov According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Michigan in the past five years has seen a net reduction of 4.4 percent in the number of workers aged 22 to 34. Two of the most popular destinations for these professionals are the neighboring states of Illinois and Ohio.

You probably didn’t need that statistic to prove what most of us already know: Far too many of our young people leave Michigan to pursue opportunities elsewhere. Our families and our communities have felt the loss, and it is significant.

The drain is especially dire in the areas of science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM). Michigan colleges and universities offer a great education in these fields, but regional economic disincentives force far too many STEAM professionals to leave after graduation.

Their exodus disrupts families, deprives Michigan employers of much-needed talent, and hinders local economic growth. Fortunately, our local community foundations have found innovative solutions to address these problems.

Leaders like Mackenzie Price, executive director of the Huron County Community Foundation, and Randy Maiers, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of St. Clair County, have pooled resources to develop “Reverse Scholarship” programs in their communities.

Reverse Scholarship programs award money to recent graduates who move to the area to work. They reduce the income disparities for young professionals choosing to live in areas where earning potential is less than in high-demand areas — thereby attracting talent and spurring local economic growth.

The Community Foundation of St. Clair County is offering three $10,000 scholarships that recipients could use to pay off college debts. In Huron County, the community foundation is actively engaging donors to establish similar grants.

To get these programs started, the foundations needed official recognition from Lansing, which is why Rep. Edward Canfield and I have sponsored House and Senate resolutions to support the effort. Senate Resolution 146 calls on local leaders to address financial disincentives and pursue innovative policies for STEAM professionals, especially in financially distressed areas.

In March, both Price and Maiers testified in Lansing in support of the Senate resolution.

“This focus on the retention and attraction of STEAM graduates in Michigan is a critical step towards mobilizing the philanthropic sector in this space,” Price said. “With this resolution, the state Legislature is opening the door for foundations to address the issue of talent retention on a local level. For Huron County, that means implementing a new Reverse Scholarship program that will provide partial student loan repayment for those returning to live and work in the county.”

It’s exciting to see such progress, and I commend these leaders for their pioneering ideas.

Michigan’s economy has rebounded significantly, but much work remains. Providing reverse scholarships and other incentives for STEAM professionals will enable Michigan communities to play an important part in their own recovery.

Senator Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township serves the residents of the 25th Senate District, representing Huron, Sanilac and St. Clair counties; and Armada Township, Memphis, New Baltimore, Richmond and Richmond Township in Macomb County.

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