Greater Boston Talent Retention Report Documents Loss of Graduates

October 22, 2003

 Boston -- A report released today, Preventing Brain Drain: Talent Retention in Greater Boston, addresses one of the most serious threats to the regional economy:  our failure to retain an educated work force committed to the Greater Boston region.  This is the first study to measure the loss of Boston-based graduates, to analyze the reasons for their departure, and to produce proposals to keep more graduates in the area.

The study found that, while 50 percent of all students who graduate from Greater Boston colleges and universities stay in the region, an equal number  leave the area after receiving their degrees. It also found that 80 percent of the graduates who leave depart for reasons that are avoidable.  The study, therefore, recommends several initiatives that would reduce the number of graduates who leave.  These initiatives focus on job opportunities, affordability, and the city experience.

The study, commissioned by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and the Boston Foundation, was conducted by The Boston Consulting Group.  It surveyed more than 2,100 students from 10 area schools who graduated in 2003 with degrees ranging from the associate and bachelor’s levels to Ph.D.’s   More than 1,300 alumni from Boston-area schools who graduated between five and 15 years ago were also surveyed, as well as a number of Boston-area employers, ranging from small to large firms.

“The health of Greater Boston’s economy depends on a dynamic labor force,” said Paul Guzzi, President and CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.  “Greater Boston employers, who have the most to gain, recognize the importance of talent retention.  We will implement the recommendations of this report, working with the business and education communities to increase student retention.”

The report will be released at a press conference at 8 am today at the Westin Copley Place Hotel.  After a presentation of the report’s findings, there will be a panel to discuss the implications of the study.  Panelists include Mary Fifield, President, Bunker Hill Community College; Dr. Richard Freeland, President, Northeastern University; Stan Lukowski, Chairman and CEO, Eastern Bank; and Ellen Zane, Network President, Partners Healthcare.

“The stakes are clear.  In the new global economy, the key to commercial success is knowledge.  The asset with the greatest leverage in a knowledge economy is the modern research university, an asset Boston possesses in abundance,” said Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of The Boston Foundation.  “Each year, these schools produce tens of thousands of graduates who can play a vital role in restoring our economy.  It’s going to be more important to have these skilled workers in place now, as the economy starts coming back, than ever before.”

While Boston has long enjoyed its reputation as a student mecca, the problem of departing graduates is not new.  The Greater Boston area is home to scores of colleges and universities, making it one of the greatest concentrations of higher learning in the country.  In the 1980s, Massachusetts ranked first among the 15 most populous states in the growth rate of adults with bachelor’s degrees.  However, difficulties in retaining highly educated workers date back to the last major economic run-up, in the mid-1990s, when segments of the Greater Boston economy suffered from a lack of qualified workers.

The study found that recent trends show that Boston is again struggling to retain its own graduates:

  • From 1990 to 2000, metropolitan Boston lost 15.8 percent of its young people between the ages of 20 and 34, at a time when that demographic group declined nationally by just 5.4 percent.  Furthermore, during the same period, Massachusetts – which had been ranked among the leading states in expanding their educated work forces – fell below the national average;
  • Fully half of Greater Boston’s graduates leave the area after receiving their degrees.  Yet four out of five graduates who leave are “avoidable departures,” making a voluntary decision to live elsewhere;
  • Approximately half of these avoidable departures leave the Boston area for cities they have never lived in before.

According to the report, Greater Boston has an opportunity to improve its retention of graduates based on their positive city experience.  The report states that:

  • Many, many graduates have fallen in love with the Boston area and sing its praises;
  • Students marvel at its livable size, its easy access to stores, culture, and entertainment, its liveliness, its history and its charm;
  • Students acknowledge that the region has made progress on the diversity front, although they note that there still is room for improvement;
  • Many students experience the city as a fun place to be, with a “happening scene,” but they also note some gaps, such as Boston’s early closing hours and lack of late-night public transportation.

Jobs, according to the findings, remain a critical factor in retaining graduates:

  • The single most important driver of a graduate’s decision to stay in the Boston area is the availability of jobs in the graduate’s chosen field;
  • Graduates seeking jobs in health care, research and development, and finance and accounting – key
  • Greater Boston sectors – are usually successful, but those interested in government, law, or entertainment often struggle to find work.

The message on affordability is mixed:

  • Affordability, driven strongly by the cost of housing, is Greater Boston’s most frequently and vociferously cited frustration;
  • For most graduates, however, housing costs do not play a central role in the decision to stay or leave. 
  • Only for a subset of graduates – just over one-quarter of avoidable departures – is affordability a deterrent to remaining in the area;
  • Nevertheless, issues affecting affordability have become much more serious in the past five years.

Boston has an opportunity to reduce the number of graduates who leave by focusing on three segments in the avoidable departures category:

  • The 30 percent who leave because they have better job opportunities elsewhere;
  • The 27 percent who leave because Boston is not affordable; and
  • The 22 percent who believe another location offers a better city experience.

The report included a number of recommendations that the business and higher education communities should implement together to reverse the brain drain trend.  Specifically,

To close the gap on job opportunities, they should:

  • Establish a broad set of initiatives to improve the connections between employers and soon-to-be graduates;
  • Begin with a “heart-of-the-market” job exposition – for students who may not be at the top of their class and employers who are not large enough to grab the attention of placement offices – targeted at graduating students and Greater Boston’s leading industries; and
  • Promote internships for students at Boston-area companies. In addition to leading to future jobs, internships can strengthen students’ connections to Boston.

To make Greater Boston more affordable, they should:

  • Work to increase housing affordability, a critical issue for Greater Boston. The Boston Foundation and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce are leading members of the Commonwealth Housing Task Force, which will shortly release a comprehensive strategy for promoting affordable housing.

In order to improve the city experience for students, they should:

  • Establish a variety of activities and events to get students involved with areas of Boston they might not visit while they are in school. The goal is to encourage students to project themselves into the future as residents of Greater Boston;
  • Work to make Greater Boston more diverse and welcoming to minority groups; and
  • Explore other opportunities to change the city experience in positive ways, such as improving options for late-night entertainment.

In addition, the report points out that some other cities are proactively tackling the problems of the need for improved job opportunities, city experience, and housing to address this issue.  Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have organized high profile efforts to retain more graduates and attract more students to their cities and to retain more graduates.  Other cities are holding career fairs and establishing internship programs, while still others are trying to introduce students to the attractions of their cities by, for example, holding scavenger hunts in neighborhoods students are unlikely to have visited or staging events in interesting venues.

The impetus for this study was the Boston Foundation’s 2002 Boston Indicators Report, which highlighted the need to focus on reversing the departure over the past decade of talented young people from the region, because they are often the drivers of innovation.  Due to these initial findings, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and the Boston Foundation commissioned the Boston Consulting Group to conduct further research on retaining talent within Greater Boston.

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The Boston Foundation, one of the nation’s oldest and largest community foundations, has an endowment of more than $570 million, made grants of  $48 million to nonprofit organizations, and received gifts of $38 million last year. The Boston Foundation is made up of 750 separate charitable funds, which have been established by donors either for the general benefit of the community or for special purposes. The Boston Foundation also serves as a civic leader, convener, and sponsor of special initiatives designed to build community. For more information about the Boston Foundation and its grant making, visit , or call 617-338-1700.

The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce is a broad-based association representing more than 1,700 business of all sizes from virtually every  industry and profession in the region.  The Chamber provides leadership in creating a heathy climate for economic development and job creation.  The Chamber is an important resource for its members for advocacy, information, and marketing exposure that enhances their business success. And most important, the Chamber adds value to the community at large by working for legislative changes that are critical to economic growth.  To learn more about the Chamber, visit, or call 617-227-4500.