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The U.S. Cities Winning the Battle Against Brain Drain

College-educated workers add considerably to local economies, but some places do much better at retaining them.

Over the past decade or so, cities and metros across the United States have greatly increased their efforts to retain college graduates. And for good reason. College grads are a key driver of innovation and economic development, and are closely connected to the wealth and affluence of cities and metros according to a large number of studies. But Americans are much more likely to move in their mid-to-late twenties, so it’s the metros that hang on to more of their college grads that stand to gain a long-run advantage.

There has been no shortage of speculation about which metros lead and lag in retaining college grads. But new data and research provided to us by Jonathan Rothwell at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program enables us to zoom in much more precisely on which metros are the winners and losers in retaining their college talent. (I recently wrote about Rothwell’s related research on the economic effects of college and universities.)

To get at this, Rothwell and his colleague Siddharth Kulkarni collected data on where college and university grads reside from LinkedIn’s alumni profiles, which list the most common urban locations of alumni. This data covers over 1,700 of the largest U.S. colleges and universities (721 two-year institutions and 984 four-year ones), which graduate approximately two-thirds of all students. With the help of my Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI) team, I then mapped this data by metro. Metros in purple have the most alumni still living in the area, while metros in light blue have the least.

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