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IN THE NEWS: Effort Underway to Keep New Grads from Bolting
September 03, 2010

Published on September 3, 2010 by the Boston Business Journal

By Mary Moore

Students returning to colleges in the state can expect some new attention in the coming year as business and higher education leaders ramp up efforts to stop newly minted graduates from leaving as quickly as they came.

In 2008, the most recent year in which data is available, Massachusetts was second only to Pennsylvania in the net number of first-year students from other states that it attracted to private colleges and universities. That year, Massachusetts drew 10,318 freshmen from other states, according to data provided by Iowa-based Postsecondary Education OPPORTUNITY, while Pennsylvania had a net 12,160 out-of-state students.

Yet according to a study done by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, New England states also retain a lower share of their graduates largely because the region imports so many students from elsewhere, and those students leave when their studies are complete.

“We don’t have a clear strategy for how we recruit and retain those individuals who come to Mass to get their education at our world class institutions,” said Sen. Ben Downing, D-Pittsfield, who has introduced a bill in several legislative sessions that would create a task force to study the issue, but the legislation has not so far gotten traction.

But the need is clear.

The Federal Reserve Bank found that Massachusetts has an overall retention rate of 60 percent for its college graduates, compared to 71 percent in New York and 84 percent in California.

In addition, nearly 30 percent of students who are not originally from Massachusetts are still here a year after graduation, according to the Fed’s findings.

And 55 percent of graduates from private colleges and universities remain in the state, while more than 70 percent of graduates from public higher education institutions stay local.

“We have a lot of selective and private institutions in Massachusetts,” said Alicia Sasser, senior economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. “It’s not too surprising that (those graduates) would leave.”

To that end, the “It’s All Here” cam tiative coordinated through the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, is launching a high-profile public relations push this month, marketing the state’s strengths specifically to students.

In addition, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce has created a partnership with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and local colleges and universities, connecting current students with employers.

At stake is the Massachusetts economy, especially as it attempts to untangle from the recession. Stemming the “brain drain” of highly talented, creative students who graduate from private colleges and university is considered critical to the state’s economic growth.

“It causes lower workforce growth and causes employers a problem in finding young people” to fill jobs, many of them on the lower end of the wage scale, said Peter Francese, the demographic forecaster for the New England Economic Partnership. “If you get unbalanced age distribution, it’s an economically dangerous place to be.”

The colleges and universities that see the biggest influx of students from out of state tend to be those, of course, that carry national reputations. At Smith College, for example, 80 percent of the students in the class of 2014 come from outside Massachusetts, many of them from California and New York. Thirty percent of Northeastern University’s students come from outside the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions, and more than 300 of Mount Holyoke’s 542 incoming freshmen students are from out-of-state.

What keep graduates in Massachusetts are jobs and affordable housing, though opinions appear to differ as to which one is more important. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston study shows employment opportunities as the biggest consideration among recent graduates for staying or going.

“You can create jobs until the cows come home, but no employer can pay what it costs for young people to afford housing,” said Francese. While high cost housing may be an important factor, if not the biggest factor, driving college grads away, the initiatives to keep students in Massachusetts tend to focus on connecting graduates with jobs. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s partnership with the Greater Boston Chamber and local colleges and universities has focused in large part on seminars and events hosted by the Fed, bringing together corporate leaders and students.

The initiative also has included creating a new website using social networking tools so that local companies, especially smaller and mid-size companies, can post internship opportunities. So far, the effort has been a pilot program involving Babson College, Boston University, Bentley University and some other schools, and the website should launch in the coming year.

The initiative likely to garner attention is the newest iteration of the “It’s All Here” campaign, which has focused on several different themes since its start several years ago and this fall will focus on “retaining talent”, said Kofi Jones, spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.

The campaign will include everything from a new website offering job and internship opportunities as well as networking events and other ways to bring students and employers together.

“Students aren’t always greeted with the message that we want them here,” Jones said. “This campaign has an overarching message: We want students here and we want them to stay here.”


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