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New England: No. 1 In 'Non-Native' College Students — And Fleeing Grads

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With all of New England's higher education institutions (and its relative slower population growth), it's no surprise that a large share of the region's college students are from elsewhere, as the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston details in a new policy brief (PDF).

Retaining those students once they graduate, however, is an ongoing challenge for the New England economy.

In New England schools, nearly 34 percent of the class of 2008 were "non-native" students, as the Fed calls them. No other region had a non-native student population above 20 percent. But as the Fed writes in the brief:

Will they stay or will they go now? (AP File)
Will they stay or will they go now? (AP File)

While New England adds to its population of recent college graduates with each successive class, it retains a lower share of students upon graduation than other Census divisions.

A year after their 2008 commencements, just 63.6 percent of graduates from New England colleges still lived in the region. That's the lowest retention rate of the nine Census regions measured. At the high end, the Pacific region's retention rate was 88 percent.

(The brief doesn’t get more granular, for instance looking just at Greater Boston's rate.)

So why is this happening, and how can New England improve its graduate retention?

Part of the "why" is obvious for this heavily non-native student population. The Fed says:

Having already migrated once to attend college, these students have a higher propensity to relocate after graduation — often to return home — whether to take a job or be closer to family.

From 1999-2012, most moved graduates (58 percent) cited job-related reasons for leaving New England. Some of that makes sense, too. As the Fed says, the region attracts college students, and then produces skilled graduates who have job opportunities in many locations.

But with most fleeing grads citing employment, can the region do anything? The Fed brief suggests collective action, like "building stronger ties between colleges and local employers to help graduates, particularly non-natives, learn about local job opportunities and form networks in the region." The expanded use internships and co-ops fits the Fed prescription.

The brief is an update of a longer 2008 Fed report, found here.

Update on June 3: The Fed has released some additional state-level data (PDF), which detail that, of New England states, Massachusetts — at 52 percent — had the highest retention rate of 2008 college graduates. But that figure was still just 38th nationwide.

Here's how the New England states ranked:
- No. 38: Massachusetts (52 percent)
- No. 39: Maine (50.7 percent)
- No. 41: Connecticut (47.9 percent)
- No. 44: New Hampshire (38.4 percent)
- No. 45: Rhode Island (32.7 percent)
- No. 47: Vermont (20 percent)

This program aired on May 16, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

Benjamin Swasey Twitter Digital Manager
Ben is WBUR's digital news manager.


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