96% of graduates from first class will continue education, work in state

Nebraska’s “brain drain” — the net loss of college-educated people through migration to other states — has more than quadrupled in the past decade. That’s a blow to the state’s potential economic growth and future prospects.

A decade ago, Nebraska was seeing a net loss of just over 1,000 college graduates annually. But by 2016, the figure doubled to 2,000. And in the three most recent years, it’s doubled again to more than 4,000.

Over time, those numbers do add up. In the past decade, Nebraska has seen a net loss of almost 27,000 college graduates.

To help stem that tide, Wayne State College’s class of 28 graduating seniors in its inaugural Growing Together Career Scholars cohort marks the culmination of a four-year journey.

While that is an impressive achievement, here’s a more significant number that caught our attention: An impressive 96% of graduates in the Growing Together program have chosen to continue their careers or further their education right here in Nebraska, with more than half committing to Northeast Nebraska.

Programs like Growing Together seek to provide an opportunity for young people to stay here. Now we have tangible proof of the program’s impact on Northeast Nebraska, and over time, those numbers will grow as well, with 40 more Wayne State students moving into downtown housing in August, followed by 75 more every year after that.

The Career Scholars program was created in 2020 to address workforce needs. The scholarship program, worth $33,000 to each student, offers an accelerated, hands-on learning experience for students in business, computer science, computer information systems, criminal justice, electronic media, journalism or industrial technology. Students in the program spend their first three years at WSC, and then complete their senior year living and working full time with a partner employer in Norfolk or Grand Island.

This was the vision when Aksarben Foundation launched the Growing Together initiative in 2018.

Employers of this year’s class included Applied Connective Technologies; BankFirst; Central Valley Ag; City of Norfolk; Daco/DEG Enterprises; Daycos; Elkhorn Valley Bank & Trust; Faith Regional Health Services; Farmers Pride; Flood Communications; McMill CPAs & Advisors; Mead Lumber; Midwest Bank; Nebraska Public Power District; Northeast Community College; Norfolk Iron & Metal; Retirement Plan Consultants; Sunderman Investments; Telcoin; WJAG/KEXL/KQKX; and Wayne State College.

To those 15 graduates who are staying in Northeast Nebraska — including 10 in Norfolk — we welcome our new residents and thank the above businesses for taking the opportunity to build our workforce and communities for the future.