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College Grads: Do They Stay or Do They Go?

Posted by Meg Reilly  June 26, 2012 11:25 AM

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It’s been just a few short weeks since our college and university graduates heard the requisite words of wisdom and, more importantly, their own names, beckoning them to take that long walk across the stage to take ownership of the priciest piece of paper they’ll likely ever own. Diploma in hand, these young professionals face their first big decision: should I stay or should I go?

It’s been said that students are Boston’s biggest import, but is the city’s main export ideas, energy, and educated adults?

From 2000 to 2008, the number of individuals between 22 and 27 with at least a bachelor’s degree grew 8.7% in New England – roughly half the rate increasing nationally.

Every year the region adds to this population of recent college graduates as each class of young adults flows through the education pipeline: entering college, completing their degrees, and choosing where to live. According to research by Alicia Sasser Modestino, Senior Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, New England’s dismal growth in the “young professional” population depends on three factors:

  • The supply of young adults,

  • Rate of post-secondary educational attainment, and

  • Migration upon graduation.

  • While the supply of native young adults in New England has been growing more slowly than elsewhere in the country, this has been offset to some extent because a greater percentage of those individuals chose to attend college and earn their degrees. But what about migration? Looking back to the graduating class of 2000, only 70% remained in New England one year after graduation, while in other parts of the country, retention rates ranged from 72% to 80%.

    For this born-and-bred New Englander, that statistic seems crazy. Why would anyone abandon the woods of Maine and the beaches of Cape Cod and these steamy Boston summers? Fortunately, that statistic may not be as stark as it seems.

    It’s no surprise that Northeast colleges are a draw for students from all over. Modestino’s research found that region of origin makes a difference in evaluating migration rates. Only about 20% of non-native students stay in New England post-graduation, while nearly 90% of native students stick around. Who else leaves? Often times, graduates of the private and elite institutions in the area are likeliest to leave, finding plenty of offers outside New England.

    And it’s jobs, jobs, jobs that lure new grads out of town. While shoveling out cars may not be a New Englander’s favorite hobby, it’s the employment picture that factors into post-graduation moves. Over half of recent graduates leaving the region cite a new job or job transfer as cause for migration. Is it “brain drain,” as some have stated? Maybe, maybe not.

    The reality is that the region adds to its number of recent college graduates with every graduating class, but retains a lower share than other regions. Some fields, like health care, education, and business, keep graduates close by while others, like science, technology, engineering, and math, see their alumni leave town. While ideas abound regarding how to make New England a destination for young professionals, continuing to make job matches may be the best way to keep new grads in the area—particularly those not native to New England. Given that the region currently has a lower rate of unemployment compared to other parts of the country, making recent graduates aware of the job opportunities in their field may have an even greater impact on their migration decisions.


    Meg Reilly is a Boston World Partnerships Connector. She tweets about marathon training, her dog, and what she loves about Boston at @mreils. Her words are strictly hers and in no way represent the views of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, or the Federal Reserve System.

    This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
    The author is solely responsible for the content.

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