Michigan’s brain drain

FLINT – I learn lots of interesting things from my 16-year-old daughter. And by interesting I mean frightening. Sixteen and frightening seem to go together.

I learned, for instance, that she can converse for half an hour with a friend on the phone without ever saying more than “I know, right?”

I also learned recently that I am flawed in ways I’d never realized before.

“You know” she said to me the other day while I was wiping down the kitchen counter, “they told us in med-occ (medical occupations class) that using a sponge on the counter is like wiping it with raw chicken.” She then turned and left while I stared at the sponge, not knowing whether to clean with it or cook it.

Later that same day she also let me know – just after I got off the phone – that the germiest surface in your average house is the telephone receiver.

Thanks, sweetie.

Here’s the scariest thing she’s shared with me from school recently: A college counselor came to her class and asked the kids to picture their lives 10 years from now – what kind of job do you have, what kind of car do you drive, are you married, and so on.

He then said, “Who sees themselves living in or around the area?”

No hands went up.

“OK, what if I gave you a free house?” he said.

Three hands went up.

Next he asked who was getting out of the state entirely. About a third of the hands shot up on that one.

And finally he asked, “So where do you see yourselves moving?”

The answer: “To somewhere warm.”

Given that it’s January, that answer probably isn’t a surprise. If you asked me last week, when the temperature was hovering between 10 above and “Oh my sweet Lord,” where I’d move to, given the chance, I’d have said, “The oven?”

And kids will be kids, of course. What teenager doesn’t say he or she wants to get as far away from home as possible if possible? I certainly did.

Still, a third of a high school class full of smart kids seeing no future here?

That seems like a lot. Anyone paying attention knows that brain-drain already is a big problem for Michigan. A study by onlinecolleges.net says between 2000 and 2009, the state lost more than 6 percent of its population with college degrees, tops in the nation except for Colorado.

Worse, a 2009 survey by the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan said half the state’s college grads leave the state within a year of graduation.

The solutions, thankfully, are fairly obvious: lower tuition, more internships, cities that are not only safe and livable but (pardon the Granholmism) “cool.” And of course jobs in high-tech industries don’t hurt either.

The problem is Michigan obviously isn’t doing well by most of those measures. That ought to concern us. We’re losing our kids, and once they’re gone they’re not likely to come back. Ever.

You’re thinking, “Wow, that’s kinda scary.”

I know, right?

EDITOR’S NOTE – Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. Write to Andrew Heller at andrewhellercolumn@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.