Global Detroit: Sneaking a peek at talent retention initiative

Michigan’s universities are home to over 25,000 international students. That figure ranks us eighth in the nation. At the same time, Michigan ranks last of the 50 states in its ability to attract young people aged 25 to 34. 

While young talent moves elsewhere, international students are not only coming to our diverse region, they’re choosing to stay in Michigan when given the opportunity.

Global Detroit helped launch the Global Talent Retention Initiative (GTRI) in 2012 because universities, businesses, and civic leaders have begun to understand that international students represent an important part of increasing our region’s competitiveness and revitalizing the economy. GTRI works with both international students to insure they understand their legal options for staying in Michigan, as well as the state’s amenities and quality of life, while also educating employers about this talent base available to fill unmet needs for skilled positions.

GTRI will soon be releasing its report on a unique study comparing international student data across seven Michigan universities. The findings are illuminating, and we want to share them here with you first.

Key findings from the report:
  • Michigan’s colleges and universities host more than 25,000 international students who contribute $750 million annually to the state economy.
  • Michigan’s international students are more than three times as likely than native-born students to major in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) -- 61 percent versus 18 percent.
  • International students using academic training options choose to stay in Michigan at rates higher than in-state students, and rates three times higher than out-of-state students.
  • While Michigan’s immigrants have started nearly a third of the state’s high-tech businesses between 1995-2005, the typical high-tech immigrant entrepreneur in the U.S. started her business 13 years after coming to the U.S. and most likely came to receive an education.
GTRI was able to review data on participating universities' international students who used what are known as academic trainings that allow them to work in the area in which they were educated for a year to 29 months after graduation, depending on the circumstance.

With the assistance of Global Detroit, the findings for more than 2,500 international students were compared with other data on Michigan college graduates. Unfortunately, precise data on post-graduation employment is not available for either international students or domestic ones. 

Sixty-three percent of the 2,500 international students using these academic trainings were working in Michigan. Prior survey research conducted by Michigan Future and the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce suggests that only 59 percent of in-state Michigan graduates stay in Michigan after graduation, while only 21 percent of out-of-state graduates stay. This suggests that of the international students at Michigan colleges and universities who remain in the U.S. after graduation, they are choosing to stay in Michigan at rates higher than in-state students and three times the rate of out-of-state students. Of the 2,500 international students using these academic trainings, nearly 80 percent of them held graduate degrees. 

Looking at these statistics, we can begin to understand how crucial international student retention and attraction is to the future of our state economy. 

First, a strong talent base in the STEM fields is essential to growth in the knowledge-based, high-tech economy, especially those possessing graduate degrees. Second, while Michigan’s native-born young population moves out-of-state at an alarming rate, Michigan’s international students are choosing to stay when given the option. And third, there is a strong connection between studying in Michigan and starting a thriving business in the state. 

It is becoming better known that immigrants, particularly those in Michigan, contribute enormously to their states’ economies. However, this knowledge is only beginning to trickle down to the resources and opportunities we provide international students in this country. GTRI is the first and only full-time staffed initiative of its kind.
At the University of Detroit Law Review’s Annual Symposium two weeks ago, Governor Snyder asked a room full of lawyers in the Detroit Athletic Club, "How dumb can we be?" The Governor was referencing America’s practice of providing the world’s best education to international students and then not having adequate processes in place to keep them here once they graduate. 

GTRI, now a cornerstone of the Governor’s Global Michigan program, is working on both sides of the spectrum -- with employers as well as international students -- to train and provide resources on navigating immigration regulations, finding talent and employment, and managing cross-cultural differences. 

GTRI is expected to release its full report, International Talent Retention in Michigan: A Pathway to National Competitiveness, in April.
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