Oh, the places college graduates go—and why it's a problem

Grads move to where the jobs are

College graduates are increasingly migrating to coastal and more densely populated states. Writing for the New York Times' "The Upshot," Quoctrung Bui shares the reasons behind this trend and how it affects the U.S. economy.

The United States has one of the highest rates of internal migration of the world's advanced economies, Bui writes—and much of that internal migration is that of young, college-educated workers.

According to a study conducted by the Federal Reserve Board, internal migration rates—that is, the rate of people moving across state lines—for college-educated people was nearly twice the rate of internal migration for people without a college degree between 2001 and 2010.

After graduating from college, young people tend to seek out cities with an abundance of jobs and higher wages. These cities are often found in Southern and coastal states, such as California, the Sun Belt, and the Northeastern corridor stretching from Washington, D.C. to Boston.

And though many states that are not located on the coast do have big cities, Bui writes, these cities are further away from one another; college graduates seek regions where cities are in clusters.

"Keeping young college graduates would help alleviate the effects of globalization and technological change on these local economies," Bui argues. 

This explains why, for these interior states, the migration patterns pose a problem; there are more young college graduates leaving the state than there are coming in. Complicating the problem, states often help students pay for their education at public colleges and universities—but interior states don't see the return on that investment if graduates move elsewhere. Interior state money is effectively subsidizing the cost of creating the skilled labor force in coastal and southern states.

Charley Ballard, a regional economist at Michigan State University, calls the phenomenon a "chicken-and-egg problem," because convincing college graduates to stay would require interior states to create more jobs—but to convince employers to create more jobs, the states need to provide a ready labor force of college graduates.

"I don't think there's anybody out there that thinks there's some quick, easy solution," Ballard says.

Some interior states are attempting to appeal to young, college-educated people in other ways, using marketing campaigns to emphasize their:

  • Natural beauty;
  • Cultural amenities;
  • Lower cost of living; and
  • Access to outdoor recreation.

(Bui, "The Upshot," New York Times, 11/22).

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