Using PayScale’s Data as a Retention Tracking System of College Students

Better Pay Far Away: Which States’ College Graduates Stay or Go

By Bridget Quigg

If you graduate from West Virginia University, chances are you’ll take your education and job skills out-of-state once you’ve tossed your cap – adding to their college graduate retention problem. In fact,, a salary information website, completed a recent study of top public university graduates from every state in the Union and found that only 28 percent of West Virginia University graduates are working in West Virginia five years after graduation,

By comparison, if you complete your degree at the University of Washington you’ll likely be happy to work and live in the Evergreen State. UW grads stick around at a rate of 74 percent, or near three times that of West Virginia University grads. Why is there this discrepancy?
Jobs. Young college graduates seek careers where they can put their education and if there are none available near their alma mater they move on. If you do the math on this trend, you’ll see that some states get a great return on their higher education funding, while others lose ground. This can be a real problem, especially now that most state’s budgets for creating more jobs and funding college retention programs are strained by the recession.

PayScale director of quantitative analysis, Al Lee, Ph.D., explains the issue further, “Earning a bachelor’s degree from a leading public university gives a state’s resident options, but are the best opportunities out of state? A lot of a state university’s graduates hitting the road to find a career is not a good sign for a state’s future.” Lee goes on to suggest that states with poor retention rates might be wise to invest in programs that create more jobs rather than further subsidizing public higher education.

So which states are winning and which are losing? Here are the top five states and their percentage of college graduates who stay to work in state after completing a public university degree:

Top States for College Retention

1. Washington, University of Washington – 74% retention rate
2. Minnesota, University of Minnesota – 67% retention rate
3. Texas, University of Texas, Austin – 65% retention rate
4. New York, Binghamton University – 64% retention rate
5. Utah, University of Utah – 62% retention rate

By comparison, the following five states struggle the most to keep grads as workers five years later:

Worst States for College Retention

1. West Virginia, West Virginia University – 28% retention rate
2. Wyoming, University of Wyoming – 29% retention rate
3. North Dakota, North Dakota State – 29% retention rate
4. Delaware, University of Delaware – 30% retention rate
5. Iowa, University of Iowa – 30% retention rate

Lee highlights the dramatic difference between two neighboring states listed above, “The winners keep winning: more North Dakota State graduates (36%) work in Minnesota than in North Dakota, while less than 1% of U of Minnesota graduates find a career in North Dakota.”

Despite the dire statistics, some areas are not as bad off as they seem. For example, Delaware boasts only a 30% retention rate of workers in state from its University of Delaware graduates. But, if you consider Delaware as part of an area that includes surrounding states like Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, as well as the District of Columbia, 76 percent of UD’s Fightin’ Blue Hens choose to stay nearby and possibly live in state and commute from Delaware to another state to work. Our current vice president, Joe Biden, is an example of a University of Delaware grad who lived in Delaware but commuted into D.C. for work.

Some other interesting facts PayScale found about college graduates’ behavior include:

• California jumps into the number one slot, above Washington State, in retaining graduates when you consider all of its ranked public universities, not just UC Berkeley. UC Irvine has a worker retention rate of 83%.

• North Dakota drops to the bottom of the 50 states when all of the ranked universities in each state are added to the calculation. West Virginia gets bumped up to the second to last spot.

• When the country is divided into geographical regions, the Pacific region, which includes Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington, ranks highest in keeping grads around and employed. The Middle Atlantic region of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York comes in second.

• Another important factor for keeping grads working in state can be the number of highly specialized jobs available, such as high energy physics research or fashion design. More populated states, like California and New York, offer a wider variety of job possibilities, therefore college graduates of these states’ universities have more reason to stay in-state after graduation.