University of Pittsburgh
September 19, 2001

Pitt Report Unveils New Reasons Why Young Professionals Leave the Region Strategies Offered to Increase Recruitment, Retention of Students and Workers

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September 19, 2001

PITTSBURGH—The first systematic survey of graduates of the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, and Duquesne University sheds new light on a question that has puzzled employers, academics, elected officials, and policymakers for a long time: If Pittsburgh is "Someplace Special," why do so many of our young professionals choose to leave, and what can be done to reverse this trend while attracting other young professionals to the region?

The results contain both good and "not-so-good" news for the region, more than a few surprises, and policy recommendations for turning around any negative trends.

Conducted by the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) at the University of Pittsburgh with funding from the Heinz Endowments and the R.K. Mellon Foundation, the Career and Location Decisions Project includes more than 2000 interviews with 1994 and 1999 graduates from the city's three largest universities. The interviews were conducted by telephone and over the Internet in early 2001. In general, respondents were asked why they came to the Pittsburgh area for their education, what kinds of jobs and lifestyles they wanted, and how they made their decisions about where to live and work.

"One of our most striking findings is that Pittsburgh is doing better in retaining its college graduates," said Susan Hansen, Pitt professor of political science and principal investigator for the GSPIA project. "We saw significant improvements from 1994 to 1999 across all categories."

Specifically, over half of the currently employed 1999 college graduates interviewed work in the Pittsburgh area, compared with only 40 percent of the 1994 graduates. The proportion of graduates in scientific and technical fields who stayed to work in this region also increased 25 percent between 1994 and 1999.

"As for the 'not-so-good' news, low salaries proved to be a key reason why so many of our graduates leave the Pittsburgh region," said Hansen. "Although the cost of living may be higher in other areas of the country, recent graduates are still attracted to positions with higher starting salaries. Salary differences are even larger for women, minorities, and international students, and concern with finding good jobs for two-career couples also convinced people to move elsewhere."

Hansen added that, while Sun Belt states like California, Arizona, and Florida were often mentioned as desirable places to live or work, more of the area graduates who left Pennsylvania settled in neighboring states in the Northeast rather than in the Sun Belt.

On the plus side, the survey showed that students are attracted to Pittsburgh first because of the quality of its academic programs, but that they also cited many cultural events, the urban atmosphere, and availability of economic opportunities as factors affecting their decisions.

"There are a number of ways in which this region can begin to recruit and retain more college students who stay after graduation," said GSPIA Dean Carolyn Ban. "The important thing to remember is that a 'one-size-fits-all' approach will not work. We need to tailor recruitment strategies to the needs and interests of diverse groups."

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(Note: An executive summary of the report and its policy recommendations accompany this release.)