Thursday, June 6, 2013
NU graduates more likely to stay in Boston

This past March, the World Class Cities Partnership (WCCP), an urban research institution based out of Northeastern, released a report stating that 50 percent of students graduating from Boston colleges leave the city within five to seven years of receiving their diplomas.

Northeastern itself, however, seems to be an exception to a rule that denotes schools with large out-of-state and international populations have lower retention rates for the Greater Boston area. According to the report, which gathered 2011-12 data from public information provided by the networking tool LinkedIn, while only about 35 percent of Northeastern students hail from Massachusetts originally, about 60 percent remain in the Boston area five to seven years after graduation. Of the eight Boston area schools surveyed, only Suffolk University and UMass Boston (both of whose students populations are over 60 percent natives of Massachusetts) have higher retention rates.

Northeastern’s high retention rate has largely been attributed to the school’s co-op program.

The WCCP asserts that an area’s job availability is the deciding factor of where young people settle post-graduation, and not the proverbial cost-of-living and housing market. Because Northeastern sets students up early to begin developing their professional networks, and because the majority of co-ops are based in the Boston area, graduates tend to stay in Boston.

Michael Lake, executive director of the WCCP, said that he hopes this study will help shift the discussion surrounding retention of college graduates in Massachusetts.

“I would really like to see students integrated into the professional community,” he said. “Our aim is to change the debate around retention, which has historically been focused around cost-of-living expenses.”

Lake points to the tendency of graduates to migrate to cities such as San Francisco and New York City, areas with higher costs of living than Boston, as evidence that graduates are not as concerned with these factors as many believe.

For recent graduates of Northeastern, jobs do appear to be the number one priority when deciding where to settle.

Kelly Ward, who graduated in May with a degree in international affairs, has moved back home to Rhode Island but continues to search for jobs in Boston.

“I would prefer [to work in] Boston, since it is a hub of social entrepreneurship,” Ward said, explaining that her experience as a co-op for Grameen Bank in Bangladesh solidified her career goals of working in this field.

While the cost of living is a concern for Ward, she is more focused on where she can find work, and listed New York City and San Francisco as other potential destinations.

New York City is a prominent destination for Boston students post-graduation. Brian Jimenez, graduate of the D’Amore-McKim School of Business with a B.S. in business administration, was hired by the New York-based company he co-oped with while he was an undergrad.

“Although Northeastern had, in fact, given me some great professional contacts in Boston throughout my five years, it had also given me some great contacts outside of it,” Jimenez said. “I don’t know if that is specific for business, accounting or not, but I quickly realized that at every career fair or information session that I attended, there were always a handful of firms that were from outside Massachusetts. I met some recruiters from New York City, Washington D.C. and others, and this made it easier to leave Boston if I saw fit.”

Jimenez was offered a job even before he walked across the stage at TD Garden on May 3 – the ideal situation for many college undergrads. But for students coming to Boston from overseas, the necessity of being hired quickly is more urgent, as student visas expire and the number of work visas granted by the US government is limited.

“As an international student, the number one deciding factor is where I get hired and, considering the standard of living here in Boston, if the offer is enough to support myself,” Margarita Limcaoco said. She is a junior international affairs major from Manila, Philippines who hopes to receive a job offer from her next co-op position.

Limcaoco echoed the sentiments of the WCCP report, which states that graduates stay in cities where jobs in their field are available. She said that even though Boston is not her first choice of a place to settle down long-term, she will stay should she receive a job offer within one year of graduating.

“It’s a slippery slope,” Lake said on the topic of retaining brainpower in Boston. “Once a small group of people leave, their friends will follow them … If no jobs are available in Massachusetts, anywhere else looks promising.”

Lake said that he hopes the report will be used to spark initiatives to keep Boston-educated students in the knowledge-based economy of the Hub.

“If people have a job,” Lake said, “they will find a way to live here.”