How we can STEM the tide of brain drain

Two distinct “brain” indexes compiled recently by Bloomberg L.P. — a research service which provides data and analytics to financial companies — get to the heart of the economic divide in Colorado.

Boulder, Fort Collins and Denver all ranked nationally in the top 10 of Bloomberg’s Brain Concentration Index, which tracks business formation as well as employment and education in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Grand Junction, on the other hand, ranked 16th in a separate measurement — Bloomberg’s Brain Drain Index, which ranks cities with waning white-collar jobs and declining salaries for STEM jobs.

On the heels of Peter Hessler’s unflattering snapshot of the cultural forces shaping the Grand Valley’s political climate, Bloomberg’s assessment is hardly an ego boost. But it does note the effort underway to turn things around.

In that vein, we can call Hessler’s New Yorker piece a “before” picture and look forward to how the joint engineering program between the University of Colorado-Boulder and Colorado Mesa University, the CMU20000 initiative and the Rural Jump-Start tax credit program can move us toward a robust workforce of young, highly educated individuals. Supporting the bond issue and mill-levy override for District 51 schools would certainly help.

Bloomberg’s data brings into sharp focus the importance of supporting STEM education — whether it’s in the K-12 system, community college/vocational training or at the university level. Jump-Start provides a backstop to the efforts to improve STEM educational attainment by luring technology-based companies and jobs that require a STEM background.

Today’s best, highest-paying jobs are nearly all in STEM fields. As STEM advocates note, these jobs demand problem-solving, teamwork, creativity, and out-of-the-box thinking — all skills that are best cultivated through high quality learning opportunities in STEM.

So it’s no surprise that communities that have established a strong STEM pipeline have the workforce that companies are looking for. The national STEM Education Coalition offers the following as a justification for more investment in STEM education.

■ Half of all STEM jobs are available to workers without a four-year college degree, and these jobs pay $53,000 on average — a wage 10 percent higher than jobs with similar educational requirements.

■ 60 percent of U.S. employers are having difficulties finding qualified workers to fill vacancies at their companies.

■ While the U.S. economy grapples with economic recovery, job postings in in the STEM occupations outnumber unemployed workers by nearly two to one.

■ The top 10 bachelor degree majors with the highest median earnings are all in STEM fields.

There’s a clear correlation between a community’s prosperity and its support of STEM education and workforce development. Luckily, we’re on the right path. But it’s going to take a lot more work to move from Bloomberg’s Brain Drain Index to its Brain Concentration Index.


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We keep speaking of jobs and occupations, which is fine if that is all there is to the individual and all he/she cares about.  But it really isn’t.  Many will avoid any community or society which the find culturally oppressive as, once their thinking has been stifled in one area, it will inevitably spread into others.  Perhaps the Daily Sentinel and its staff don’t realize that (so concentrated are the on money and jobs) but it is a fact.  And the entire Grand Valley, not matter what some may believe, is a classic example of such a repressive social culture.

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