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Students are leaving Ohio after graduation, but a new bill hopes to change that

Ohio Representative Jon Cross is seeking to keep college students in Ohio after graduation with a bill to give students scholarships and tax breaks.

Cross introduced The Graduate and Retain Ohio’s Workforce (GROW) Act to the Ohio House of Representatives on Dec. 14, 2021. The GROW Act has four parts that support college graduates and the Ohio workforce.

“The overall premise of the bill is trying to incentivize students to first come to Ohio, and then once they graduate, to stay in Ohio,” Nicole Hoyer, assistant director of government relations at Miami University, said.

Students who stay in Ohio three years after graduation with a full-time job will be eligible for a three-year, 100% state tax refund, which means students will be exempt from state income tax for up to three years.

In a news conference for the GROW Act, Cross acknowledged that exempting students from taxes for three years would hurt Ohio financially, but he hopes that by building up the Ohio workforce, the annual revenue will offset the tax break.

Although the incentive is tempting, it might not be enough for alumni like Cora Harter.

Harter, a Miami alumna who graduated in May 2021, lived in various places across the U.S. before her parents bought a home in Cleveland her senior year of high school. Harter, who studied journalism and political science, is now a recruiter for Insight Global and lives in Chicago.

“I don’t think [the GROW Act] would have ultimately changed my mind,” Harter said, “but it would be something I would definitely consider.”

Harter did apply to a few jobs in Columbus, but she decided she wanted to be farther away from home and live in a bigger city.

“I really didn’t have a huge tie to Ohio other than Miami, and I didn’t see myself moving anywhere in Oxford, Ohio,” Harter said.

The second part of the GROW Act will allocate 100 merit-based loans of $25,000 each to out-of-state students enrolling in an Ohio four-year higher education institution.

To be eligible, students must be in the top 5% of their high school graduation class and pursuing a career in a STEM field. After graduation, if the student stays in Ohio and works full-time for three years, the loan will be fully forgiven.

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Although the bill aims to attract more out-of-state students, Randi Thomas, Miami’s VP of ASPIRE, said for Miami, the problem isn’t attracting students, it’s getting them to stay after graduating.

“I think it would be beneficial for Miami in the fact that we could have more alumni that would be in Ohio,” Thomas said. “I don’t necessarily know that it would increase the number of out-of-state applicants that we get, but it could change where those students end up after graduation, and I think that’s the goal.”

Xander Lepre, an out-of-state student from Pittsburgh, said if he were a current high school student and the GROW Act was approved, it would have incentivized him to apply to Miami because of the loan forgiveness.

“I think loans are becoming such a big thing right now that any type of waiver or any type of help with those is a very big incentive for others,” Lepre said.

The third part of the GROW Act gives students who earned an associate degree and wish to pursue a bachelor’s degree a state-funded grant to continue their education.

Finally, the GROW Act will allow Ohio employers to earn a refundable tax credit of up to 30% of paid wages for students who engage in internships and co-ops.

Both Hoyer and Thomas support the bill and hope to see it get approved.

“Randy and I agree with the Act to incentivize students to come to Ohio first and then stay here,” Hoyer said. “It would definitely be beneficial to the state’s economy. We definitely support that.”

Emma Roane, a senior supply chain and operations management major, is an out-of-state student from Chappaqua, NY.

Roane said she hasn’t heard about the GROW Act but isn’t surprised the state wants to incentivize students to stay in Ohio; she’s noticed how Miami specifically encourages students to intern and connect with companies in the state.

“A lot of the work opportunities that are given are located within the Ohio region or the Midwest region,” Roane said. “I can definitely feel the underlying influence that they would like us to try and stay within this state just because of where we’ve placed ourselves for these four years.”

As graduation approaches, Roane said she did apply to some jobs in Ohio but ultimately decided to look closer to home.

“I didn’t necessarily have a set location that I wanted to be in, but I did get a few job offers located in Ohio,” Roane said. “After doing a little bit of research about the area and the companies I’d be working for, it didn't necessarily align with what I realized I wanted, so my job search has led me to look closer to home on the East Coast.”

Like Roane, Lepre is also not looking to stay in Ohio after graduation. Although he doesn't want to stay, he thinks the GROW Act will pass.

“I could see it getting approved just because I do believe that a high percentage of people come to Ohio and leave Ohio,” Lepre said. “I personally don’t plan on staying in Ohio unless that’s where my career path takes me.”

Currently, the bill is still a proposal, but it already has bipartisan support in the General Assembly. In the press conference, Cross said he hopes to get the GROW Act passed and started within the next year.