Leaked State Secret: How to Stop the Brain Drain

David Luther
by David Luther
College Grad Jobs, Rankings - 2 years ago
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The topic of the interstate educational brain drain — students leaving states — surfaces periodically. However, the conversation tends to focus on which states high school graduates leave for college, not what happens after they matriculate.

So we’ve analyzed the data to determine where the graduates are leaving — college graduates, this time — and offer insights into why, and what states can do about it.

Because, well, some states are simply terrible at holding onto their grads.

Nationwide studies show time and again that the factors impacting freshmen college decisions shift year to year, but their focus tends to be on the college and its town, not the state at large. The reasons young people in general move also change, with employment and even love topping the list.

So we dug in to find which states suffer from the brain drain — after those brains are made about $150,000 more valuable — by surveying resumes to see which states lose the most graduates for their first jobs.

What we found.

We sampled 127,403 resumes to determine the percentage of graduates that left states for their first jobs after college. And here are your losers winners of the brain drain.

States that lose the most graduates.

State Graduated From Grads That Leave
Delaware 70.69%
Vermont 69.54%
Rhode Island 69.43%
North Dakota 65.44%
West Virginia 65.05%
New Hampshire 64.31%
Missouri 63.17%
Maine 59.23%
Montana 57.82%
Arizona 57.14%

Smaller northern states tend to lose the most.

On the other hand, some of the more populated states — like Texas, New York and California — retain theirs.

States that keep the most graduates.

State Graduated From College Grads Kept
Texas 80.16%
California 79.62%
Illinois 65.33%
Minnesota 65.17%
Nevada 64.60%
Arkansas 63.69%
Washington 63.63%
North Carolina 63.29%
Kentucky 62.94%
New York 62.65%

Some trends we noticed

The first thing we considered was that grads might be following jobs. We looked at employment rates to see if graduates were chasing jobs — and wouldn’t you know it, some of the states they leave the most also have some of the lowest unemployment rates, with only two being above the US average of 4.5 percent.

State Grads Leaving Unemployment
Delaware 70.69% 4.50%
Vermont 69.54% 3.00%
Rhode Island 69.43% 4.30%
North Dakota 65.44% 2.80%
West Virginia 65.05% 4.90%
New Hampshire 64.31% 2.80%
Missouri 63.17% 3.90%
Maine 59.23% 3.00%
Montana 57.82% 3.80%
Arizona 57.14% 5.00%

Granted, these states also tend to offer few jobs that make use of college degrees and also lack those urban centers that millennials are flocking to in droves.

Young graduates, then, are probably looking not only for employment, but meaningful employment in addition to the less quantifiable standards of living.

Graduates may be coming to the state for private colleges and then going back home.

Using the most recent National Center for Educational Statistics data, we found a strong correlation between the number of private college graduates from each state and the percentage of graduates who leave.

states-grads-leave

It’s a statistically significant .36 correlation, which is all the stronger because some states like Wyoming, North Dakota and Montana have very few private colleges.

Take Wyoming for example, which loses 57 percent of its graduates. Only 1.5 percent of its students graduate from private schools… but Wyoming has just a single, small Catholic private school.

It comes down to public colleges.

So consider again the percentage of private school graduates and the inverse: the percentage of public college graduates.

Low grad-retaining states take in more out-of-state students to public colleges

Public colleges favor in-state students, and it may seem intuitive that students who come from a state and receive their educations in it will remain.

However, the same states that lose their graduates also tend to take in more out-of-state residents. Take a look at the three states that lost the most graduates:

  • Delaware admits 3,339 out-of-state students to its public colleges and sends 830 students to other states’ public colleges.
  • Vermont admits 2,062 out-of-state students to its public colleges and sends 622 students to other states’ public colleges.
  • Rhode Island admits 1,927 out-of-state students to its public colleges and sends 763 students to other states’ public colleges.

And on the other hand, we have the states that kept the most graduates:

  • Texas admits 2,750 out-of-state students to its public colleges and sends 11,179 students to other states’ public colleges.
  • California admits 3,339 out-of-state students to its public colleges and sends 17,196 students to other states’ public colleges.
  • Illinois admits 2,117 out-of-state students to its public colleges and sends 16,461 students to other states’ public colleges.

This imbalance suggests that the state schools in states that fail to retain their graduates are getting the private school treatment — students come for their educations then return home, or else take a job in one of those millennial meccas.

So what’s the secret?

The flagship public colleges from some of the states that keep their graduates are some of the best colleges in the country — eight of the US News Top Ten Public Colleges are also in the ten states that retain their grads the most.

That’s the what, but another factor, and the one that might be the answer to the why, is most likely the answer to seemingly everything: money.

When considering how much each state puts towards funding publics colleges, we see that it very strongly impacts the number of students who attend public colleges.

And how much money these states put towards their public colleges is connected to graduate retention rates, at a .12 correlation. Of the ten states that lost the greatest percentage of graduates, six of them also fund their public colleges the least.

The takeaway.

Of course, correlation doesn’t mean causation, but the implication is strong.

The answer may be that students simply want to live and work where they were born and raised — but the case seems to be that, for states, the key to attracting educated millennials is to invest in public education.

While businesses are seeking the Holy Grail of marketing — an answer to why young people are doing pretty much anything — it seems that the most important thing for states to do to hold onto the largest segment of the work force is to invest in its education.

State Graduated From Grads That Leave
Delaware 70.69%
Vermont 69.54%
Rhode Island 69.43%
North Dakota 65.44%
West Virginia 65.05%
New Hampshire 64.31%
Missouri 63.17%
Maine 59.23%
Montana 57.82%
Arizona 57.14%
Wyoming 57.07%
Iowa 56.27%
South Dakota 55.80%
Idaho 54.12%
Oklahoma 52.37%
New Jersey 51.79%
Utah 51.73%
Kansas 50.74%
Mississippi 49.27%
Indiana 48.97%
New Mexico 48.96%
Pennsylvania 46.64%
Massachusetts 46.49%
Alabama 44.30%
Ohio 44.09%
Michigan 43.89%
South Carolina 43.42%
Nebraska 43.15%
Connecticut 42.51%
Oregon 41.89%
Florida 41.13%
Maryland 41.00%
Alaska 40.74%
Wisconsin 39.67%
Hawaii 39.51%
Louisiana 39.51%
Virginia 39.46%
Georgia 38.38%
Tennessee 38.16%
Colorado 37.39%
New York 37.35%
Kentucky 37.06%
North Carolina 36.71%
Washington 36.37%
Arkansas 36.31%
Nevada 35.40%
Minnesota 34.83%
Illinois 34.67%
California 20.38%
Texas 19.84%