How to fix Spokane’s “brain drain”

Biology and bioengineering labs are a critical component to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics) education. What if Spokane offered scholarships to local students interested in pursuing STEAM? (PHOTO: Noll & Tam)

Spokane has a “brain drain” problem. Currently, many of our brightest high school seniors choose colleges and universities located on the coast, in cities like Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, or in the east, in areas like, New York, Massachusetts, and the Washington, D.C. area. (For example, this blogger attends Santa Clara University in the Silicon Valley.) That would be fine if those students moved back to Spokane upon graduation. But they don’t.

Typically, these students leave Spokane when they turn 18 and don’t come back, perhaps partially because in-routes to established companies, economic opportunity, and culture are seen as more plentiful in those larger, more established cities. There’s “more to do,” more “people like me,” and “more jobs.” (Or so people think.) The brain drain continues.

But what if we had a way to end it?

We talk a lot in this community about bonds and levies. These tax measures are designed to allow for infrastructure investment, parks and recreation improvements, road construction, and school renovations. A small levy, or even a large grant from a charitable organization, however, would be enough to make a big difference in our “brain drain” problem.

Let’s offer any high school senior in Spokane who wishes to pursue a career in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics) a $5,000/year college scholarship. In return, the student would agree to move back to Spokane for a period of at least three years post-graduation (with postponement available for years of service and graduate school). Simple. Easy. These fields are constantly cited as the types of industries which our city must attract in order to remain competitive in the 21st century. So let’s do something about it. Let’s encourage students to go into STEAM fields. Let’s encourage students to move back to Spokane. Let’s grow our local economy by leaps and bounds.

The best part is that this type of measure need not be expensive. A levy the size of the roads levy planned for the November ballot, for example, would make a big difference. $10 million/year for higher education is a small figure compared to the possible economic benefit of increased STEAM engagement in the area. Even a large grant or series of grants could be huge for area students.

And with a requirement that student return to Spokane, there’s a good chance that we’d hook them in for good.

What do you think? Could college scholarships/grants for STEAM students help improve Spokane’s local economy and increase the number of young, urban professionals? Would you be willing to pay $20 more per year in property taxes to fund scholarships for high school seniors? Disregarding a funding mechanism, what do you think about requiring that students move back to Spokane? Share your thoughts below, on Facebook, and on Twitter. We love to hear from you.


7 thoughts on “How to fix Spokane’s “brain drain”

  1. It is a good idea. I just feel like there is a lack of desire to invest in the future of this city. That change in attitude may be the largest hurdle to overcome.

  2. and who pays for this $5,000?
    who ensures they come back?
    when do you pay it? at the end of their agreed amount of time back in Spokane?
    who manages this magical fund?
    tax payer money?

    If the answer is tax payers, then you’ve lost ANYONE involved in wanting to pay it. I don’t want my tax dollars going to someone who doesn’t actually want to be here knowing they’re just doing it for a few thousand dollars. If they want to be here, they’ll come back. Otherwise, they’re coming for X number of years, getting experience, cashing in on the 5K, saying “thanks for the experience, now I have money to move to the big city with my experience padded resume and i’ll go make more elsewhere!”

    No, financial incentives to get “brains” in Spokane should be left to the corporations that want them here. What Spokane really needs to do is persuade companies to come here that NEED “brainy” employees, and let THEM dole out the benefits. Much like they do in Silicon Valley, much like they do at Zappos in Vegas, much like they do in growing cities.

    Let us instead invest that kind of money in marketing to corporations to set up shop here.
    Let us instead invest that money in building spaces for entrepreneurs, startups, maker spaces, etc..
    Lets invest in a rising Spokane (that is the point of the blog right?!) instead of just paying off a chunk of their student loan just to see them leave anyways. Give them reason to be here that will then KEEP them here!

  3. It’s a good idea. Incentive to bring their skills and brain power back home would be beneficial for Spokane’s economic situation, and be a catalyst for a shift in the cultural make-up of the city. I moved away to Seattle with intent to stay, but I saw potential in Spokane that eventually brought me back. I am interested in our development as a progressive, forward thinking city and breaking the mold that has cast it’s shadow on Spokane for far too long. Young, enthusiastic, driven, and intelligent people are needed here, and I’m glad to see this blog and like-minded people to remind me we’re out there.

  4. I work at a STEAM categorized technical school in the south west and have been quite involved in this process most recently attending a STEAM themed engineering expo/conference in D.C. a few months ago that dealt specifically with this push for momentum. At our program I have 7 recent High School senior grads from Washington State attending in Sept on full ride scholarships all with the intentions of taking the skill set/certifications back to Washington. Problem with this idea is tracking and of course the governments recent spotlight on default rates with title 4 funding currently. If you offer such a scholarship then it most likely won’t include private for profit technical schools and $5000.00 a year at a SFCC or SCC which has the majority of STEAM programs is a pretty hefty scholarship in relation to the total amount of tuition. We have internal scholarships for academic purposes that can easily be monitored if a student is not meeting criteria (grades, attendance) however, to track location after the fact would be an administrative nightmare for any institution. While it’s easy to track in state/out of state tuition to keep tabs on location after grad would be a challenge. If you get a student who does leave if they were to get an offer to make $20,000 more a year east of the Cascades and decides to leave then you are talking about a process to recoup the funds adding to a huge in debt highly visualized problem currently with the government and DOE. I think it is a great idea however, I think traditionally people need to be more aware first of the benefits of STEAM based degree/certification programs and that falls upon the schools responsibility to do so. Personally I think you start with using that money in Grants to expand programs HVAC/R, automotive, welding, list goes on then you show the opportunity with local conventions and more site visits to High Schools. That is the driving force down here.,

  5. Better placement support by the state, encouraging local businesses to be more involved with schools (we do this daily at our program and have an 80% placement rate under DOE reporting procedures), career fairs, more open matriculation agreements between technical schools and community colleges into upper level business degree programs at universities giving people a better opportunity to open up small business, and marketing awareness in regards to careers people may not know about with steady employment versus traditional degree programs.

  6. And an FYI I had 5 full ride scholarships produced b a third party foundation for HS seniors go to waste because there were no takers. Chalk that up on marketing and a lack of knowledge on certain opportunities in the STEAM field.

  7. Spokane is really improving on their brain drain situation but I feel like it’s not happening quickly enough. My husband and I really strongly considered staying in town after we graduated because we wanted to be a part of Spokane’s revitalization. He’s a programmer, so Seattle was a decent fit and we’re still in the same state as our parents. When job hunting, he complained that non-web based development jobs were rare. His program at EWU is rapidly improving and churning out some awesome graduates the economy has been slow to accomodate the college aged STEAM brain drain. Spokane also has the issue of being right next to Idaho. Idaho has a much lower cost of living and minimum wage, allowing STEAM companies to pay lower wages which draws a lot of attention over to Idaho. In Seattle, the rent is very high but do you think a college kid is going to think that one out when they get offered a job for 75K vs the one in Spokane for 55K? All that kid sees is Idaho: 45K, Spokane: 55K and Seattle 75K. We have to figure out some attractions that offsets that difference that appeal to the 20 somethings.
    Can we maybe start a program that offers incentives for companies to come here and work with EWU to start a feeder program that makes?


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