Can interns revitalize Ohio’s economy?

Recently, the Cleveland Foundation hosted the Fenn Educational Fund annual meeting. The Fenn Fund has been managed by the Cleveland Foundation for more than 40 years and is designed to promote cooperative education and internship programs at institutions of higher learning in Greater Cleveland.

This year’s event drew particular interest due to the presence of the keynote speaker, Eric Fingerhut, Chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents. Understanding the state’s difficult economic situation, folks in attendance were interested in hearing how Gov. Ted Strickland and Fingerhut planned to use co-ops and internships to play a role in re-energizing Ohio’s economy.

Fingerhut started the evening by providing some pretty sobering numbers. In an audience primarily made up of higher education administrators, most were familiar with the term that is commonly known as “brain drain”, or the exit of numerous college graduates from the region.

Fingerhut shared data displaying the extent of the brain drain and clarified how it affects the states’ economy. Fingerhut expressed his belief that connecting students to local businesses and experiences prior to graduation could make a significant impact on their job prospects upon graduation. This will in turn greatly influence their decision to stay in Ohio, infusing our state with the talent that would help to grow our economy. Co-ops and internships are some of the means by which the chancellor seeks make these connections.

The chancellor closed by seeking to enlist the knowledge and experience of those in the room, as well as others around the state in improving Ohio’s ability to retain its talent. He also stated that the potential partnership between colleges and universities and the Board of Regents would for a period of time be partially funded by the state.

It was then that the chancellor announced the Strickland Administration’s decision to set aside $50 million to develop innovative academic programs in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, building the talent and research pipeline and fostering relationships between Ohio’s education system and industry. Funding to support these initiatives would be distributed through a state-wide grant competition.

Although the current number of students willing to stay in Ohio upon graduation is a cause of concern, the governor and the chancellor’s aggressive approach in addressing this issue in part through co-ops and internships was encouraging to all who were in attendance.