The brain drain 

The brain drain

From online comments on Kristian Andersen's Big Idea submission of an Arkansas Business Fellowship ("Stop the brain drain," Nov. 30).

Are there "scientific" studies to support the assertion that "our best kids go to San Francisco, Austin or New York because that's where the best jobs are" or is this simply conventional wisdom that might be flawed? (And please define the term "best kids.")

I ask about our "best kids" going elsewhere because a year ago former Arkansas Dept. of Higher Education director Jim Purcell said that new ADHE numbers showed that two-thirds of Arkansas's young people who've earned a BA or higher are staying in the state.

He credited this to a slow dance with industry to ensure that while we're educating our workforce, we're also bringing in jobs that give them a tendency to stay here. Seems to me you're traveling somewhat the same road, thus I applaud what you're doing with the Arkansas Fellowship Program.

Beyond Arkansas, I'm concerned about the nation's "brain drain." Last I heard, almost 70 percent of science and engineering grad students in American universities were from other countries. In the past, most stayed here after graduation, contributing in countless ways to the health and welfare of this country.

Today, however, a rapidly growing number of these brilliant young university graduates are going back to their home countries to engage in their careers, particularly to booming China and India. I think much of this is due to our woeful immigration policies and that we'd better wake up and correct them.

But even THAT may be too late. I fear the day is quickly dawning when these bright minds won't even be coming here to study, since not-to-be-outsmarted China, India, and other countries are paying American schools to set up shop on THEIR soil.

The result of this is that you and I could live long enough to see a shortage of scientists, engineers, and physicians so critical that the U.S. will no longer be at the sci-tech-medical fore.


Kristian Andersen responds:

"Best Kids" is a bit of a fuzzy term — you're correct. In this context, we're talking about high-potential, entrepreneurial (often unconventional) students. The statement regarding where the "best kids" go is absolutely based on anecdotal evidence, but that doesn't make it any less true. I've spent the last several years traveling the state, talking to students and recent grads and there is definitely a feeling that there is not sufficient opportunity for entrepreneurially-minded graduates. Now, I don't happen to think that is true, but I do think there is a disconnect between those opportunities and the job seekers. That is one of the primary purposes behind the Arkansas Fellowship.

To your second point — Yes we have a national brain drain as well. There are three reasons for this. The first is our restrictive visa policy. There are some smart people that are trying to rectify this like Brad Feld, Paul Graham and Sen. John Kerry via the "startup visa act."

The second is that we just simply have fewer students pursuing careers in the sciences (mathematics, engineering, etc.). And the ratio of young women pursuing these types of careers is woefully inadequate. There are a number of folks working on addressing this issue with varying degrees of success.

The third is countries like India and China are much better (easier) places to start a business than they used to be. They are still not the U.S. in terms of rule of law, intellectual property rights, access to markets, early-stage funding, etc., but they are a lot closer to the U.S. than they were just 10 years ago. A brilliant Indian student studying in the U.S. really had no option but to stay in the U.S. if they wanted to pursue an entrepreneurial career 10 years ago. That is no longer the case.

Build the Chester Bridge

I read Max Brantley's column last week ("A bridge too few," Nov. 30) with interest and found myself in essential agreement with him. I favor using Chester Street, which not only connects with I-630 but runs south from the river to Roosevelt Road, as a place for  a new bridge to take off. Although the street is not designated as a state highway, the state Highway Commission could, I trust, make that happen. Unfortunately, it is questionable whether or not the soon-to-be revealed design proposals, still on the closeted drawing boards of the crew at construction firm HNTB, will satisfy.

I suspect it's time to focus on the next river crossing, one whose design and construction are still several years away. With forethought, vision and a well-developed sense of consequence (which the Highway Department seems to have in short supply) we may be able to build that singular span.

Let's keep the Broadway Bridge, limiting its use to pedestrians and bicyclists, and build a great new one that's accommodating to vehicular travel, cyclists and pedestrians at Chester. Locating it there would insure room for an enlarged Robinson Auditorium footprint, providing needed space for the performing arts facility that Philip Mann rightly favors.

June Freeman

Little Rock

Petrino's outburst

Chutzpah? Too big for his britches? Goose/Gander? Pot/Kettle? How much does the State of Arkansas pay this guy? What does the president of the UA System say about this? Is BoPet growing like JoPat? Bobby Knight? Woody Hayes? KingKong Suh?

Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino screamed obscenities at the LSU coach for kicking a late field goal to make the score 41-17, apparently accusing him of running up the score. The quadruple irony/hypocrisy is: The week before, Petrino's Razorbacks beat Mississippi State by the identical score. In three earlier games, including an SEC game, Petrino's team won by margins of at least 42 points.

Robert Johnston

Little Rock


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