Keeping Talented Youth In North Dakota

Bismarck Tribune – April 21st, 2006

In response to the editorial of April 18 concerning the cost of college tuition, I would like to add some perspective from a recent graduate.

The rate at which tuition is increasing will soon price North Dakota out of the education market. Currently, our tax-subsidized system has a focus on importing students from out of state as its means of creating growth.

An economics professor here in North Dakota told me, “We need to attract talent to compensate for the talent that wants to leave the state. If people want to leave, they will. We cannot force them to stay. We should encourage people to come to North Dakota, not force people to stay.”

I firmly believe that this is the attitude that drives the official policy makers. At some point, the goal went from keeping our young people here to “forget our own young people, let’s just bring other people into the state.”

As a young person who would like to be able to stay in North Dakota and make a living, this policy can only be considered folly, and it is certainly counter-productive to the economic development goals of this state.

With the cost of tuition sky-rocketing so much that the state of North Dakota was forced to limit tuition increases to 9.9 percent annually, there must be a corresponding incentive to encourage students to stay in-state for education. Surely, if there are tax incentives for corporations to come and stay in North Dakota, it is only wise and fair that the same should hold for individual residents.

Some things that would be a good start would be:

– 100 percent tax exempt status of tuition, books and other supplies directly related to the student’s educational program.

– An extension of the student loan repayment grace period to one year.

– A 10 percent-a-year early repayment discount on principal for those graduates who choose to stay in North Dakota after graduation and contribute to the economic future of the state, rather than leaving North Dakota for higher income opportunities.

3 0 percent interest for up to five years for graduates who remain within the state for that time period.

This should be referred to as the “Karvo Plan,” as it is the suggestion that Ian Karvo made in his pre-convention effort to obtain the GOP nomination for Congress. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should say that I was involved in that effort and the creation of this policy suggestion.

I am not suggesting that this will be a total solution for the outmigration issue. But the talent we lose as a state by the outgoing of educated youth is detrimental to the overall success of the state. This “brain drain” is bleeding North Dakota dry and can only be stopped by how we deal with the current structure of the education system within the state.

Something needs to be done — maybe not my suggestions, but at the very least a discussion needs to begin, and quite possibly a complete change in attitude.

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