Who moves? Young college graduates are more likely to move to a new state if they made good grades or attended top ranked colleges. Those who stay enjoy their spare time and want to live near family.
The answer to that question makes or breaks local economies. Places that pile up people with college degrees grow faster and have higher incomes than places with larger percentages of high school graduates. Harder to understand is why some people move and others don’t — and why some places tend to attract educated people while other places suffer from a “brain drain.”
Rural areas have been hit hard by outmigration. So the reasons for migration are of particular interest to those living in Yonder. Rural communities, therefore, should take note of a study coming out of the Small Business Administration that traces the movements of young college graduates.
Chad Moutray, an SBA economist, gained access to a unique Department of Education survey of 7,000 young people who were college seniors during the 1992-93 academic year. The group was interviewed again in 1994, in 1997 and in 2003, ten years after their graduation year. The study allowed researchers to see what really happened to recent graduates — where they moved, what they earned, where they worked.
Before we get to the results, this is what researchers believe they know about who moves and why.
Those with a college education move more than those with a high school diploma, 77% versus 56%. College graduates are more likely to live in many states. People in the Midwest are less likely to move than those living in other regions. Those in the West move the most. (Think Route 66.) Movers say they are looking for economic opportunity while stayers say they want to be around their friends and family.
These trends are more pronounced among rural residents who go to college. One study found that rural college graduates are three times more likely to move to cities than are rural residents who haven’t been to college.
Migration does have economic consequences. Cities that have collected educated kids thrive while rural areas that lose their most-likely-to-succeed fall behind.
Okay, so what did the SBA find in their interviews of 7,000 recent college graduates? Here are the high points:
• Those with the highest grades moved the most. Students who made As and Bs in their major in college were more mobile than those who made more average grades. It doesn’t appear that what a person majored in makes much difference to mobility.
• It is true that the “best and brightest” are the most likely to migrate. Students who attend top research universities — or who pay higher tuition rates — are more likely to move out of their home state.
• Having a well-educated spouse increases the chances that couple will move. It is likely that finding two jobs that for highly educated workers requires a move to a larger city.
• Movers go to places with vibrant local economies. States with higher than average increases in gross domestic income are much more likely to have recent graduates moving in. (The SBA researcher notes that it isn’t possible to know if the faster growth rates are attracting the well-educated — or if the recent college graduates are creating the fast growth.)
• Having strong ties to home keeps people from moving. Older people who are married with children and own their own homes are less likely to leave their home state. Those who want to live close to their parents, not surprisingly, are less likely to move.
• Men are more likely to move than women.
• Recent graduates move away from low-population-density states to those with more cities.
Moutray concludes that there is an interesting divide between movers and stayers. Movers appear to be looking for vibrant economies. Stayers are more interested in maintaining community connections, especially staying near family.
“The final piece of the puzzle for stemming ‘brain drain’ is the existence of strong ties to the community,” Moutray writes. “This, of course, is not something policymakers have much control over, but this research suggests that such ties exert powerful influence.”