Retaining Talent – Where Do Alums Go?

Written in partnership with Phil Strazzulla of NextWave Hire, an HBS student of mine who stayed in Boston!

Massachusetts is the land of colleges with over 114 high education institutions, and nearly 250,000 students calling it home.  These students represent an extraordinary talent pool that gets exposed to the local innovation ecosystem. Ideally, many of these students will stay in the greater Boston area upon graduation to pursue further education, their careers, and build their lives.

However, there are also many students who leave, namely for opportunities in other attractive locales, such as New York and San Francisco.  Because the flow of students in and out of Massachusetts is such a strategic issue for the state, we wanted to take a deeper look into which schools did the best job of retaining students as a way to understand how the region generally can retain its valued, young talent.

In the past, it was difficult to get access to reliable data on this issue. But, today, LinkedIn (soon to be Microsoft LinkedIn!) is a nearly universal professional directory and has an accessible API from which to pull data. Thus, we used LinkedIn’s API to look at some of the better known and largest of the Massachusetts-based schools to see where graduates were locating post-graduation. Here’s what we learned.

Bentley Rules, With Northeastern a Close Second

In the chart below, you can see what our analysis showed across a range of thirteen of the more popular schools in the state. We analyzed the percentage of graduates from each institution who are currently living in the Greater Boston Area, a data set that includes over 1.1 million professionals.

As you can see, the school on this list that retains the most graduates was Bentley University, where 59 percent of recent alumni are in the greater Boston, followed closely by Northeastern.  At the other end of the spectrum are Williams and Amherst, who both actually see higher numbers of alumni in NYC than Boston.  Williams and Amherst have 22 percent and 24 percent of alumni in NYC, respectively, as compared to only 13 percent in Boston.

Bentley is an interesting case study; it draws a national and international student population, perhaps because it performs so highly on many major rankings. Bentley was ranked No. 5 in the U.S. by The Economist for value (defined as median earnings as compared to expected earnings based on a wide range of factors) and No. 10 for undergraduate business schools by Bloomberg.

Why would some schools be better at retaining their graduates in state than others? One obvious driver for this discrepancy between schools is where the students originate from.  If a school has more Massachusetts-based incoming freshman, they will probably have more people who stick around over time.  Again, thanks to the LinkedIn API, we ran those numbers too using the same data set of 1.1 million alumni. Here’s what we found.

Northeastern Rules on a Relative Basis, UMass Amherst Is a Negative Outlier

This next chart measures the percentage of students who come from in state minus the percentage of alumni living in the Boston area.

Looking at the numbers on a relative basis, Northeastern is the stronger contributor to the state’s talent pool. At Bentley, 45 percent of students come from in state, and 59 percent of alumni are in Boston currently, which means that the school provides a net contribution of talent to the state of 14 percent.

UMass Amherst is a massive outlier – although the vast majority of their students come from in state, nearly half their alumni find from in state currently find themselves living outside of Boston.

It is interesting to see that nearly every single school on this list is a net contributor to the collective Massachusetts ecosystem.  In other words, putting aside UMass, nearly every school sees more students stick around Boston then grew up here.  MIT draws from only 10% in state students yet nearly 21 percent of MIT alumni are currently living here in Boston, thus a gain of 11 percent of their 117,000 alumni – a talented cohort that makes a substantial contributor to the local economy.

Why else might a school be a more positive contributor to the local economy? Recruiting patterns and school ranking could also be a factor.  Students from world-renowned universities like Harvard and MIT attract global employers. The graduating students are thus sought out by companies from all over the world who are willing to go to great lengths to recruit these students (e.g., Google and Facebook are particularly aggressive recruiters at those two schools).

Overall, Boston is a great place to get an education, and a great place to stay to build your professional career.  It’s clear that the ecosystem of colleges and universities contributes by bringing in great talent who stay after graduation.  While these numbers are encouraging in the aggregate, we hope they will allow individual institutions to set higher targets and provide greater transparency.  If each school were open in sharing their data (perhaps a statewide version of what the Obama administration has emphasized with their Open Data Initiative, College Scorecard), we could monitor this over time. As many undergraduate business school students know, paraphrasing management guru Peter Drucker, what gets measured gets done.

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