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The Long Road To Solving The "Brain Drain" In New Mexico

Jul 8, 2018

Credit Trip Jennings-New Mexico In Depth

  Commentary: Searchlight New Mexico’s Amy Linn took a deep look this week at the state’s dismal record at persuading talented, educated young people to stay once they’re college graduates.

The major stumbling block? There are plenty, but the one that appears to elbow all the rest out of contention for first-place honors is jobs, or, more precisely, the lack of them.

To open the story Linn tells the story of an accomplished young man from Farmington who graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2014 with ample experience in his chosen field.  But he couldn’t find the “right job,” so he moved to Ventura, California, to pursue a career.

The story reminded me of a survey New Mexico In Depth’s inaugural fellow, Robert Salas, did last year at UNM. He surveyed 39 recent graduates and upper classmen. What he found highlighted the challenges for young, educated New Mexicans as they enter the job market and search for meaningful employment in the state. It also put some flesh on the bones of the “brain drain” issue we always hear about in New Mexico. (It also collected quite a few journalistic awards for Robert.)

Of the 39 people Robert spoke to, nearly two-thirds, or 27, said they planned to leave the Land of Enchantment for better job markets.

It’s not like the college graduates didn’t see the beauty of New Mexico all around them, or how nice the people are here.

But, a recurrent theme ran among those who talked about leaving for elsewhere: The lack of economic opportunity in New Mexico.

A recent graduate told Robert he hoped to go to Denver after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in geography and environmental studies. Denver was “a hot spot for environmental research and environmental ideas” and had a larger, more vibrant private sector.

Solving New Mexico’s “brain drain” will not be easy. Nor will it be quick, experts say.

This issue is not an academic one for talented, educated students or for their parents. I know. I have two children and I often wonder what they will do when they graduate college. I have a sneaking suspicion.  Whenever we visit some place cool, I see them doing reconnaissance. They have that look I recognize because I had it when I was their age in my hometown: How will I like living in this new place when I’m all grown up?