How do you solve the brain drain in New Mexico?

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Searchlight New Mexico’s Amy Linn took a deep look this week at the state’s dismal record at persuading talented, educated young people to stay once they’re college graduates.

The major stumbling block? There are plenty, but the one that appears to elbow all the rest out of contention for first-place honors is jobs, or, more precisely, the lack of them.

To open the story Linn tells the story of an accomplished young man from Farmington who graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2014 with ample experience in his chosen field.  But he couldn’t find the “right job,” so he moved to Ventura, California, to pursue a career.

The story reminded me of a survey New Mexico In Depth’s inaugural fellow, Robert Salas, did last year at UNM. He surveyed 39 recent graduates and upper classmen. What he found highlighted the challenges for young, educated New Mexicans as they enter the job market and search for meaningful employment in the state. It also put some flesh on the bones of the “brain drain” issue we always hear about in New Mexico. (It also collected quite a few journalistic awards for Robert.)

Of the 39 people Robert spoke to, nearly two-thirds, or 27, said they planned to leave the Land of Enchantment for better job markets.

It’s not like the college graduates didn’t see the beauty of New Mexico all around them, or how nice the people are here.

But, a recurrent theme ran among those who talked about leaving for elsewhere: The lack of economic opportunity in New Mexico.

A recent graduate told Robert he hoped to go to Denver after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in geography and environmental studies. Denver wasa hot spot for environmental research and environmental ideas” and had a larger, more vibrant private sector.

Solving New Mexico’s “brain drain” will not be easy. Nor will it be quick, experts say.

This issue is not an academic one for talented, educated students or for their parents. I know. I have two children and I often wonder what they will do when they graduate college. I have a sneaking suspicion.  Whenever we visit some place cool, I see them doing reconnaissance. They have that look I recognize because I had it when I was their age in my hometown: How will I like living in this new place when I’m all grown up?

2 thoughts on “How do you solve the brain drain in New Mexico?

  1. Brain drain! In New Mexico … of course!!

    Well, that is nothing new. In September 1983, I was returning home from an educational conference in Lubbock, Texas. A young White woman was sitting next to me (Western Cherokee, Navajo, and White).
    We stuck up a conversation on how poorly teachers were paid in New Mexico. She had just been offered
    $14,000 yearly to start. I was earning $21,000 yearly in my second year of teaching in California! A full 50% more. That was a lot of purchasing power.

    She told me that she had refused the offer. An oil company had offered her $35,000 yearly because she
    had earned a degree in Mathematics (her major) and with minors in geology and integrated science
    (mixed courses in chemistry, physics, and hydrology).

    New Mexico education certainly missed a “gem” with this young lady.
    My story is 25 years old. How much longer will this last?

    PS: If you want to teach in New Mexico and earn better wages while being respected: work for the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Education, on one of the Indian Reservations. It is never
    too late.

  2. One solution would be to give as much support as possible to people starting very small businesses here, not just to huge out-of-state corporations. It’s not necessary for everyone to “find” a job– many of us MAKE our jobs.

    This is something Mayor Tim Keller has been talking about for years, but I don’t know whether much has happened with it as yet.

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