Survey analyzes factors prompting departure of Utah college graduates
United States Census Bureau data indicate that 63.1 percent of all Utahns ages 25 and older had college experience or associate's degrees in 2000.
On the basis of the 2000 figures, Utah ranked second in the U.S.
But Utah's national educational attainment rank dropped to 15th for adults with a bachelor's or higher at 26.1 percent and 23rd for advanced degrees at 8.3 percent.
In addition, the state's rank fell from 25th in 1990 to 32nd in 2000 among 25 to 34-year-olds with at least a four-year degree.
The lower ranking in the key age group suggests that a "brain drain" phenomenon might be occurring, pointed out the Utah Foundation.
To explore the issue, the independent organization completed a survey of Utah's 2004 college and university graduates.
The poll represented the first attempt to measure the loss of Utah-based college graduates and analyze the reasons for the departure.
The foundation researchers conducted an Internet-based survey of 900 graduates who attended college in Utah at public and private schools and graduated in 2004 with degrees ranging from bachelor to doctorate levels.
According to the survey, Utah retained 71 percent of the state's native students graduating in 2004.
In addition, 39 percent of the non-native students remained in Utah after graduation.
Overall, 60 percent of the 2004 graduates remained in the state after graduation.
Looking solely at public colleges, Utah retained 76 percent of native students after graduation, noted the independent organization.
Of the non-native graduates, 46 percent stayed in the state. Overall, 70 percent of all students graduating from Utah's public colleges remained in the state.
The net effect is that the number of graduates staying in Utah equalled 87 percent of the number of natives who graduated from public colleges in 2004.
Seventy-six percent of native graduates remained in Utah for an attrition rate of 24 percent.
When non-native graduates were added to the mix, Utah experienced a net attrition rate of 13 percent, probably not large enough to be considered a brain drain, explained the foundation.
Private colleges also contributed a net influx of graduates to the Utah economy in 2004.
The state retained 54 percent of native students graduating from Brigham Young University or Westminster College in 2004. Another 42 percent of non-native graduates stayed in Utah.
But 66 percent of the students graduating from Utah's two private schools in 2004 were non-natives, creating a net gain of 36 percent, noted the independent researchers.
Of all students graduating from Utah's colleges, 40 migrated to new areas in 2004.
Among the non-native graduates, 7 percent headed to home states, while 15 percent set out for new destinations.
The foundation survey asked 2004 graduates to rate how well some statements characterize their decision about where to live after graduation. These questions were asked to get a sense of the process that students went through in deciding where to live after graduation. To further refine our understanding of their decisions, the students were also asked how important certain factors were in making their decision about where to live.
First and foremost, students expressed a strong desire to live somewhere with a reasonable cost of living. However, when graduates were asked to rate the importance of individual factors in their actual decisions, affordability took a back seat to specific job opportunities, nice communities in which to live, and opportunities for future career advancement. Graduates also care about living in nice communities. They strongly feel that Utah has communities that compare very favorably with other states. Of course, graduates that leave feel slightly less so than those who stay.
Part of the decision making process for graduates, especially those who seek the best opportunity, is deciding whether to work or further their education. Graduates who stayed in Utah entered the workforce at a much higher rate (82%) than those who left (61%). Of all graduates in 2004, 22% decided to pursue further education. With the exception of engineering graduates, the majority of graduates in the sciences left Utah to pursue their graduate degrees. Overall, 57% of students who decide to further their education leave the state. Of all the students who left Utah, 31% chose to further their education,
whereas only 16% of stayers sought advanced degrees. Hence, the conclusion could be drawn that education plays a much
Opportunities for specific jobs and for future career advancement were the most highly rated factors related to job opportunities and were significantly more important than regional wage/salary levels or having many job opportunities. Overall, graduates do not have a favorable perception of job opportunities in Utah. When asked to compare Utah's job opportunities to other places they have lived, most graduates felt that Utah was at least somewhat worse than other areas they have lived. A year after graduation, most graduates who sought work were successful in securing full-time employment. Eighty-nine percent of
students who chose to work after graduation are currently employed full-time, while 10% are either employed part-time or self-employed.
Leavers have had more success in finding full-time employment than stayers at 91% and 87% respectively .
Only 1% of all 2004 graduates were unemployed and seeking a job. Surveyed graduates felt strongly that local wage and salary levels in Utah were well below average and their experience shows the perception to be true. The differences between the wage and salary levels of stayers and leavers are a cause for concern . Among graduates whon were employed, 41% of stayers are earning less than $30,000 in their jobs, while only 23% of leavers are earning less than $30,000, and the percentage drops to 17% for new leavers (those out of state students who leave for a different location than their home). Also, only 14% of graduates who stay are earning $50,000 or more, whereas that figure more than doubles to 34% for graduates who leave. Graduates who stay are clearly earning less than graduates who leave.
The findings of this survey should alleviate some concerns that Utah is spending a significant amount of taxpayer money to subsidize education for people who then leave the state and provide benefits to economies elsewhere. In fact, since out-of-state students pay much higher tuition rates than Utah students, and many of the out-of-state students choose to stay in Utah after graduation, Utah may be receiving a greater "bang for its education buck" than previously thought. Still, we should be concerned about highly talented, well-educated people who leave Utah because there are not enough opportunities here that are commensurate with their abilities. The survey clearly shows that students who leave Utah receive higher salaries than those who stay. Fostering an economy that provides more high-paying jobs would help in the long term to stem this flow. The survey also shows that graduates pursuing advanced degrees, especially medical and other professional degrees, are leaving the state in larger numbers than those who stay for those types of degrees. Some of those graduates will surely come back to Utah after their education is complete, but providing more opportunities for advanced education in Utah would help retain more of them.
Overall, in sheer numbers, Utah did not seem to have experienced a brain drain among its 2004 college graduates. While the state could not retain all its graduates, the number that decided to stay after graduation was almost an exact match for the number of in-state students who graduated from college. This is due to the fact that many out-of-state students decided to stay in Utah after graduating, replacing the native students who left. While numerically Utah might not have experienced an overall brain drain of recent graduates, it seems that Utah lost many highly motivated students to large metropolitan areas outside of Utah. Leavers were more likely than stayers to have sought out and considered the best opportunities, furthered their education, and found higher paying jobs. This is not to say that all the best graduates have left the state. However, many of those who chose to stay in Utah did so because of family considerations and the convenience of their decision to remain in Utah. Graduates have clearly said that Utah is a great a place to live, with good, affordable communities in which to live. This strength will continue to help retain native college graduates as well as attract non-native graduates.