College grads in the 90s moved to cities with fast-growing "smart" industries like tech. But now, US college grads choose cities with the biggest labor markets and the best chances of landing literally any job.
A new nationwide study reveals that the kind of cities that attract college graduates has changed since the 1990s.
In the 1990s, grads were moving to cities with fast-growing “smart” industries in fields like high tech, the study found. But since 2000, with a less vibrant national economy, college graduates are flocking toward the biggest cities with the biggest labor markets and the best chances of landing a job.
They compared migration patterns of college-educated workers from 1990 to 2000 with patterns from 2000 to 2010.
Several studies examining the migration of college grads in the 1990s found that cities with initially larger shares of college grads were most successful in attracting more grads.
“It seemed like a case of the rich getting richer,” Betz said. But this new study found that it was actually certain “smart” industries – ones that hired greater-than-average shares of college grads – that were attracting more grads to certain cities.
“So new college grads weren’t necessarily attracted to these cities just because they had more college-educated residents like themselves – they were following these fast-growing industries.”
All of that changed in the 2000s, though, after two recessions left a weak national economy. At that point, college graduates weren’t flocking to cities based on the types of industry or jobs available. They just wanted big cities with lots of potential jobs, Betz said.
Betz said it is not surprising that many cities seek to market their areas as great places to live for new college graduates.
“College-educated graduates are associated with many positive economic outcomes for cities, so leaders try to find ways to attract them,” he said.
But these results suggest city leaders shouldn’t believe that bringing trendy high-tech industries to town or building arts and culture communities will necessarily help their cause.