Milken Institute
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Is the U.S. still a magnet for the best and the brightest?
By: Milken Institute
May 02, 2011
Is there a brain drain from the United States? Panelists at the 2011 Global Conference were divided between those who have "real world" experience, in the words of moderator Vivek Wadhwa of Duke University, and the academics who disagreed.

Wadhwa opened the panel with talk of how in China, "the level of entrepreneurial activity makes Silicon Valley look like a sleepy old village." In the past, foreign nationals would come to the U.S. to get an education and stay. Now most stay here for two to three years to get the experience, then go home to capitalize on better opportunities.

Craig Barrett, retired chairman and CEO of Intel, noted that 55 to 60 percent of graduate students in engineering at U.S. universities today are foreign nationals, and foreign policy pushes these students out of the country. Multi-national companies will chase the best students, and increasingly, they are not in the U.S.

But Hal Salzman of Rutgers University disagreed: Does the U.S. have a problem developing a sufficient share of bright students? No - in science and reading, the U.S. has the highest-performing students in the world. If students aren't pursuing engineering in the U.S., it's because they're following the money to higher-paying fields like finance. Our approach of recruiting talent is half a century out of date; it's from the Cold War era. Talent should flow, which will result in broader gain for everyone.

The discussion circled back to Barrett, who elaborated: U.S. multinationals are doing well because their growth markets - and resources - are outside the U.S. There's a very real prospect that a company like Intel will be very successful and never again hire a U.S citizen. If we cede engineering to other countries, what does that hold for our economy going forward?

Check out the full video for greater insight into the arguments for and against the existence of a brain drain in the U.S. - and how education, business policy and fiscal incentives might reverse such a shift.