In collaboration with other Indiana universities, Ball State has joined a statewide initiative to bring alumni back to Indiana. 

The initiative, started by Indianapolis-based company TMap, is focused on encouraging graduates of secondary schools in Indiana to return to the state to alleviate “brain drain,” an issue where students who study in a state leave it afterward to find work. 

Michael Hicks, professor of economics at Ball State, said in an email that there are many factors that contribute to why graduates stay away from Indiana, but the biggest reason is their own potential.

“The problem with brain drain is always that people with higher levels of human capital have a higher propensity to relocate,” Hicks said.

According to a U.S. Senate Joint Economic Committee report summarizing brain drain figures from 1940 to 2017, Indiana — like other rust belt states including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Missouri — ranks among states faring the worst at retaining and attracting highly-educated adults.

Overall in 2017, the report states Indiana ranked ninth among the states with the worst gross brain drain — loss of “homegrown” talent — and states with the worst net brain gain — the same loss exceeding the in-migration of out-of-state talent.

Hicks said the problem of brain drain extends beyond the abilities of a university’s efforts alone, as the initiative would need 5,000 people to graduate from college yearly to have a meaningful impact.

Additionally, he said, because of cuts to funding of colleges and universities and the funding of K-12 remaining constant, fewer Indiana residents have been going to college since the Great Recession.

Net brain drain is the measure of whether loss of skilled talent due to out migration exceeds the in migration of out-of-state talent. The following map shows the gap in percentage between highly-educated leavers and entrants, green denoting higher brain gain and red denoting more brain drain. Emily Wright, DN

“Indiana just doesn’t do a good job of getting kids into meaningful post-secondary schooling,” Hicks said. “In order to help remedy the brain drain, we’d first want to send more kids to college, probably about 10,000 a year, which is an increase of maybe one out of every seven high school graduates.”

Hicks also listed a lack of attractive communities as a detractor for potential returning college graduates and their families.

Becca Rice, vice president for government relations at Ball State, said the initiative is trying to “cast a broad net” when it comes to the type of alumni being recruited for the initiative.

“We want students to have all the opportunities in the world, but should they find an opportunity here, it really is a win-win for the state and the employers who are hoping for great graduates, especially from Ball State,” Rice said.

She said working with TMap on the initiative allows Ball State to interact with alumni and the prospect of recruiting graduates for a “relatively low investment of time.”

Mike Rutz, co-founder of TMap, said he believes his company’s efforts can lead to benefits for the state and its potential new residents.

“We don't have mountains, we don't have oceans, right, but we do have great people,” Rutz said.

Rutz said Indiana has a number of factors that make it attractive as a place to build a career and put down roots, including the low cost of living, more opportunities to buy a house and the state’s potential to develop new industries like software engineering.

He also cited the ability of Indiana’s secondary schools to “manufacture more talent than almost any other state in the country” as a major attractor for educated workers.

People that have connections to Indiana have a “significantly higher probability” of actually living and working in Indiana, Rutz said.

In a Ball State press release, President Geoffrey Mearns said, “with a strong economy, many opportunities and Hoosier values, our state is thriving.”

“For Indiana to continue to grow, we need qualified professionals to fill many job openings throughout the state,” Mearns said. “The state of Indiana has invested in Ball State, and now I am asking our alumni to consider investing in Indiana by living and working here.”

Contact John Lynch with comments at or on Twitter @WritesLynch.