Gov. Jim Doyle unveiled a $1.1 million initiative Wednesday to pull more college graduates to Wisconsin since the state has encountered hurdles in attracting students to its higher-education facilities.

The program aims to curb the “brain drain” of college students from Wisconsin by offering new degree-completion programs in areas of high student demand while holding tuition increases under 7 percent.

The loss of Wisconsin students concerns economic analysts because it lowers the state’s per-capita income. On average, a college graduate earns $50,000 annually, compared to $26,000 per year for high school graduates, NorthStar Economics President David Ward said. Since college graduates contribute more to a state’s economic market, they also increase its tax revenue.

Wisconsin, along with 32 other states and Washington, D.C., has experienced a net loss of people who establish post-college careers in their alma mater state, according to Eric Grosso, a market economist from the Department of Workforce Development. Census data indicated that 11,224 single, college-educated 25-to-39-years-olds left the state between 1995 and 2000.

Despite the steady flight of students, Wisconsin retains more college graduates than other portions of the United States suffering from similar migration. The state’s primary struggle lies in attracting more students to graduate from its universities, NorthStar Economics Vice President Dennis Winters said.

Ward said he would still label not attracting enough graduate students a “brain drain.”

“I think what we call the brain drain is the net loss of people,” Ward said. “Most states that are picking up in increasing college grads lose people, but they attract large numbers of people, too. We get normal loss, but we don’t replace them.”

Grosso said young people become more mobile as they build on their educations, so they often seek employment in metropolitan areas like Chicago and New York.

“Wisconsin does not have that kind of a large, super-metropolitan area that is on par with those cities,” he said. “And it is undeniable that we have these kind of places in the United States, and young people with educations are not afraid to move around.”

Grosso added Wisconsin should create more jobs that demand students with higher educations, such as those in the health-care industry. However, he described the process as a chicken-and-egg dance. Entrepreneurs demand an educated workforce when deciding where to start a business; at the same time, skilled workers look for solid business opportunities before choosing their locations.

Winters said some students also do not picture Wisconsin as a “glamorous” place. Larger cities, however, might nurture students not only economically, but also socially and culturally.

Wisconsin’s Waukesha and Dane Counties have been exceptions to this phenomenon. Both districts attract large numbers of college students, partially because of the University of Wisconsin, Ward said.

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