Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Interactive Map: Where Are All Of The Graduates Going? Brain Drain In Indiana

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Graduates at Indiana University's winter commencement ceremonies at Assembly Hall in Bloomington.

If Indiana’s public universities are engines of the state’s economy, the fuel doesn’t always stay here.

One in three graduates from Indiana’s public colleges left the state — and the ones with the most advanced degrees were the most likely to leave — according to a study from Indiana University and the Indiana Workforce Intelligence System. The report tracked the payroll records of students who graduated in 2000 with various levels of education to determine what percent remained in the state after five years in the workforce.

“These figures document a significant net loss of human capital from the state,” the study’s authors write.

The highest rates of “brain drain” can be found in sparsely populated rural areas like Crawford and Floyd County. In some cases, fewer than a quarter of students originating from these communities remained in the state after receiving a post secondary credential. The study concludes higher levels of education equate to a lower likelihood of staying in the state and remaining in the workforce after graduation.

With the help of NPR data journalist Matt Stiles, StateImpact has built an interactive map showing the number of students from each county graduating from a public college or university in 2009 and what percentage of those students remained in the state one year later.

Why are people pulling up stakes and taking their degrees elsewhere? And on the other hand, why do others stay?

One Who Left: Kim Maxwell Vu

Kim Vu

Kim Maxwell Vu left Indiana immediately after graduating from Butler University with a degree in journalism.

Washington Post
Sunday Style Arts Director
Washington D.C.

Kim Maxwell Vu graduated from Columbus North High School in Columbus, Ind. in 2001. Attended Ball State University’s School of Journalism studying visual journalism graduating with a Bachelor of Arts. Left Indiana after graduation to work in Minnesota for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Left Minneapolis for Virginia to work for USA Today. Left Virginia for Washington D.C. to work for the Washington Post.

Reason for Leaving

“I have two homes. My family is in Indiana, but my job is in Washington.”

Kim Maxwell Vu is very, very clear on why he left Indiana. He felt that there were no jobs in his field available in the state.

“I could have gone and worked for a small town little newspaper, but there is a limit to what you can do in something like visual journalism,” Vu says. “Even at a pretty well-designed paper like the Indianapolis Star.”

According to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, there are more than 800 working reporters in Indiana. This means that reporting jobs account for less than one percent of the 2.7 million total jobs in the state.

One Who Stayed: Matthew Spiller

Matt Spiller

Matthew Spiller defies the trend. While many of his peers are looking at career paths that will take them away from Indiana, he has chosen to stay.

Former Analytical Chemist
AIT Laboratories
Lafayette, IN

Matt Spiller graduated from Brown County High School in 2005. Attended Franklin College in Franklin, Ind., graduating in 2009 with a degree in biology. Moved to Indianapolis, Ind. to work for AIT Laboratories as an analytical chemist conducting forensic screenings. He currently attends Purdue University’s College of Pharmacy.

Reasons For Staying

“I’d like see the rest of my life involved with Indiana.”

Matthew Spiller never really considered leaving Indiana. When he received a scholarship from Eli Lilly, he had no qualms with a stipulation that he attend a college or university in his home state.  After he graduated from Franklin College, he immediately looked for work in Indianapolis. After a year of working as a professional chemist, he decided to go back to school to study pharmacy.

“If you prove yourself, if you are an adequate professional and you want to specialize there are many clinical positions throughout the US,” Spiller says. “And in general, those jobs are where you want to live.”

There are roughly 7,000 pharmacist in Indiana — almost 10 times the number of professional journalist working in Indiana. Also working in Spiller’s favor is the fact that he shares his program with about 150 other students seeking masters degrees and only a small handful of those graduate at any given time.

And Spiller says he isn’t tied to working on the retail end of pharmacy. He’s also considering work in pharmaceutical manufacturing.

The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

Indiana’s retention rate has actually improved slightly in some areas between the initial time frame studied in the original report and the data provided for this study. Overall, 55 percent of students graduating with a bachelors in 2000 remained in the state one year after exiting college. That number has since improved to 61 percent for students graduating in 2009.

However, rates for Indiana remain below the level of nearby states like Ohio, where 78 percent of all students graduating in 2010 appeared in the Ohio workforce one year later.


An earlier version of this story referred to Franklin College as Franklin University.

An earlier version of this story reported that Matt Spiller was seeking a professional degree. He is  pursuing a masters degree.


  • EK

    I don’t think this is a recent trend. I graduated from PU in ’78, and left Indiana for Boston in ’80, when my first job wasn’t very challenging anymore and there didn’t seem to be many opportunities for advancement here then. I moved back just over 3 years ago to help my aging mother, who passed about 6 months ago, and find myself looking around again. I’d like to stay here, where I have reconnected with friends and family, but the salary data and opportunities available are not very encouraging.

  • Sakura andthe Spider

    Attributing the problem with brain drain in Indiana to primarily employment is missing half the issue. The fact that creativity is not emphasized or valued by our leaders in this state flatly makes it a less interesting place to live. The major criticism I hear from my peers is that yeah, it’s a great place to raise your kids…and pretty much nothing else. You’ve got a couple of areas that attempt to promote a music and arts scene, but otherwise, most places are starved of these things. In at least the southern portion of the state, we have absolutely gorgeous scenery and outdoor opportunities that are hugely under-promoted and overlooked. They’re seen as unnecessary luxuries rather than necessities, and as long as that’s the case, creative and adventurous types will continue to vacate for greener, more supportive pastures.

    With them goes the innovated ways of thinking that makes a location attractive to newer and growing businesses. The mentality here is still too focused on the old guard way of thinking and imagining what is possible and what should be, and so we’re stuck with an over-reliance on standard manufacturing and doldrum office drone jobs.

    I’m fortunate enough to be part of a local grassroots group that is trying to operate within this cultural vacuum, and we’ve learned much to our surprise and satisfaction that there really is a market for creativity here begging to be tapped. The positive response is very reassuring, but our leaders need to learn how to foster and promote this.

  • Caro

    The map is a little confusing. It doesn’t say if the darker color indicates more people leaving the state or more people leaving, and the key doesn’t specify. (The darkest color means >70%… but more than 70 percent stay or leave?) Context of the article seems to indicate that the darker color means more people staying, but some additional context on the map or map legend would be useful. Thanks!

    • Caro

      Whoops… second sentence should read “more people leaving the state or more people staying.”

  • Marie

    #corrections Franklin *College* (Go Grizzlies!)

  • Aaron

    @Caro – The title of the map includes the word “Retention”. I would take that to mean the percentage of people staying.

  • Guest

    *Correction: Purdue University graduates about 150 students every year with a PharmD. There are 600+ students in the pharmacy program at any given time seeking professional degrees.

  • StateImpact Indiana

    There are about 150 students pursuing a graduate degree in pharmacy. Overall enrollment including undergraduates is much higher.

  • StateImpact Indiana

    Dark green refers to students staying in the state. The map uses data which combines certain levels of education. For example, graduate refers to all degrees requiring more than a bachelors degree including PhD, masters, and professional degrees. The retention rate for masters and PhDs is much lower than that of many professional degrees.

  • Guest

    Please check your facts. The Purdue Doctor of Pharmacy program has 160 students enrolled in each of the four years of the professional program. This means 160 students graduate each May from the Purdue program. At any one time there are many more than 150 pharmacy students at Purdue. A similar number of students graduate from Butler’s program each year.

  • Cincinnati Joe

    Seems like this is mixing two groups: people who are from Indiana and those from out of state that attend college in Indiana. Generally it’s good that universities like Purdue are prestigious enough to draw so many from out of state to attend. But those students are more likely to leave small Lafayette and Indiana. That’s different from people growing up in Indiana choosing to leave the state after college. The article seems to mix the two and therefore isn’t very meaningful.

  • Guest

    More corrections needed. Thanks.

  • StateImpact Indiana

    Cincinnati Joe

    There maybe some people represented in this study who identify themselves as from out of state or foreign, but the data focused on students whose home address originated in Indiana so those students would have been in Indiana long enough to have established residency.

    We’ve done some reporting on IU and Purdue heavily recruiting international students.

  • StateImpact Indiana

    Guests, I double checked my numbers. The most recent numbers issued by Purdue place the number of graduate students at 142. The number that you are referring to is those seeking professional degrees which is 633. Matthew Spiller is enrolled in the graduate program.

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »