UNION COUNTY, NJ — Maeliosa Barstow didn’t have a New Jersey school on her radar when it came time to apply to colleges. She had heart set on an out-of-state school with a good architecture program.
“Because of my academic standing at the time, I knew I just really wanted to apply to more competitive schools,” Barstow said on Dec. 15. “At the time I was also really looking to get out of New Jersey, just because I grew up in a really small
suburb and I wanted to see what else was out there.”
Barstow, 23, didn’t returned to her hometown of Glen Ridge once she graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. She found a full-time job in California at an architecture studio using the connections she had made in university, she said.
Barstow is just one of the tens of thousands of New Jersey high school graduates who have opted for out-of-state schools. About 32,000 high school graduates left the Garden State for colleges elsewhere in 2014, the latest year data was available from the National Center for Education Statistics.
That makes New Jersey the largest exporter of high school graduates in the country, just behind Idaho, which saw about 24,000 students leave in 2014.
New Jersey’s statistics are concerning to one local state senator, who is sponsoring a bill that will direct an auditor to conduct a study to determine why high school graduates are fleeing the state in droves.
“Many never return home after college to strengthen our workforce, build our economy, or to make civic contributions to our communities,” state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. said in a statement on Dec. 11. “This brain drain is a real loss to the Garden State, and it’s something that we must understand better to reverse.”
Kean, a Republican who represents parts of Union, told LocalSource the bill will direct the state Secretary of Higher Education to survey high school guidance counselors and seniors.
The auditor will have about a year to complete the study, which will review the academic characteristics of students who stay in the state compared to those who leave. The study will also examine the quality of out-of-state schools compared
to New Jersey’s colleges.
Under Kean’s bill, the state Secretary of Higher Education, in consultation with the Commissioner of Education, would factor in the socioeconomic characteristics of the families of students who chose an in-state versus an out-of-state school.
Lesley Krien, 22, graduated from the University of Maryland in College Park in May with a degree in biology. She applied to The College of New Jersey in Ewing, but chose to go to Maryland because members of her family had studied there.
“My family went there and I knew that they loved it a lot,” Krien said in a phone interview. “So that was already instilled in me. It was just a good distance. It’s far away from home, but you can make that trip (back home) in a day. So it’s not too much.”
Krien moved back to her hometown of Glen Ridge after graduating, in part, because of its proximity to New York City, she said. But she is still looking for a job in her field, she said.
Kean recognized the state’s job market and and tax structure could also play a factor in drawing back New Jersey natives who went to school out of state.
“I put legislation through last year that looked at trying to tie higher education institutions, businesses, nonprofits and governments together to say ‘How do we better create industry opportunities in New Jersey and make New Jersey more competitive?’” Kean said in a phone interview Dec. 15. “So there a couple of things we can do from a policy point of view.”
Kean’s bill, No. S2993, passed the state Senate Higher Education Committee with unanimous and bipartisan support Dec. 11. Kean said the bill may have to be reintroduced in the next legislative session in January.