Executive Summary, May 2013

Economic growth of regions, states and countries is related to the educational attainment of the workforce. Outmigration of recent college graduates-commonly referred to as “brain drain”-continues to be a concern for many states and countries, wit h Michigan being among them. The state’s 15 public universities have conferred more than 60,000 degrees over each of the past 5 years with increases each year (figure 1-Michigan Higher Education Institutional Data Inventory data search on degrees conferred for all 15 public universit ies in the state of Michigan), and almost one-third of those degrees are in critical skill areas such as medicine, engineering, mathematics, technology and other sciences (Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan press release, March 21, 2013).

In response to the need to understand more about the young talent of the state of Michigan, a study was convened by the Detroit Regional Chamber with funding support from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation; Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan; and the Michigan Municipal League. Between January and March of 2013, iLabs, the University of Michigan-Dearborn’s Center for Innovation Research, surveyed 7,054 of the May 2012 graduates from the 15 public universities in Michigan.

Talent Target Group

Recognizing that certain factors impact a person’s mobility, the full sample was sorted based on several demographic factors. The target group is defined as single, 28 years of age or younger, not currently pursuing another degree, and born in the United States. The assumption is that those who meet all four of the criteria have fewer constraints when they consider where to live after graduation and are referred to as the target group in this summary.

Current Location

Within the target group, 63% are still living in Michigan, while 37% have left the state. In a similar study done in 2007, 51% of the target group indicated they were living in Michigan approximately six months after graduation.

The current residences of the target group include zip codes from across the state. However, the most common Michigan cities they are now calling home are the larger cities within the southern half of the Lower Peninsula (figure 2); 10.6% live in metropolitan Detroit, while almost one-fifth (19%) of those living in Michigan indicate their current zip code is in Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids or lansing.

Looking nationally, 35% of the target group moved elsewhere in the United States, less than 2% moved to another country. While the target group lives in 49 of the SO states, 38% of those who left Michigan have moved to Illinois, California and New York (figure 3).

Employment and Income

The data appear to confirm a strong correlation between economic drivers – employment status and income level – and choice of location. Nearly 70% of the target group who stayed in Michigan landed full-time employment. However, those who left Michigan were more likely to have a full-time job (86%), and were more likely than those staying in Michigan to have current annual income between $60,000 and $100,000 (24% vs. 10%).

Motivations for leaving or Staying

Recent alumni were asked questions about factors that caused them to stay in or leave Michigan. Members of the target group who reside elsewhere in the United States were more likely to agree they left for career opportunities (85%), urban experiences (38%), and public transportation (23%), as compared to those who stayed in Michigan. However, the preferences of those who left are very similar to those who stayed with respect to ideas of climate and cultural and social opportunities, with those staying in Michigan prioritizing these factors slightly more than those who left (figure 6). With regard to mobility and where people live, 86% of the target group agree that when they look for their next job, they will look for a job in a place they would like to live. In comparison, 56% agree they will look in the place they currently live, and 56% agree they will look for the best job regardless of location (figure 7).


While the percentage of the target group staying in Michigan has increased to 63% this year, more than one-third still leave the state. Career opportunity is the most frequently cited reason for leaving, but income levels and employment rates  should inform further discussion. Opportunities exist to retain and attract young talent, as they indicate communities with urban experiences and transportation offerings do have a role in their location decisions. This group will look for their next job in places they would like to live and not just the place they currently reside.

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