How can Connecticut retain its college students after graduation?

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Hartford — Connecticut is the only state in New England that has more high school graduates leaving the state for college elsewhere than it has coming to the state for college, Candace Williams of the New England Board of Higher Education said.

Down the road, the top destinations for people who went to college in Connecticut but leave the state after graduating are New York, Massachusetts and California, Williams said. She did not have an overall figure for the share of students that leave the state after graduating but said 63% of people in the fields of automation, big tech, cloud computing and cyber leave, whereas health care workers educated in Connecticut are 10% more likely to stay than their peers in digital technology.

Williams was one of the speakers at a forum Friday on how to increase the retention of college graduates in Connecticut, which the University of Connecticut Department of Public Policy, Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges, and Capitol Region Council of Governments sponsored.

She pointed to a few New England institutions that have higher rates of keeping graduates in-state, such as Goodwin College and University of St. Joseph in Connecticut, and Northeastern University and Babson College in Massachusetts.

What do they have in common? They’re all known for strong career services departments and “for forming deep connections with their local workforce,” Williams said.

She also pointed to the success of programs such as Dakota Roots, which connects former South Dakota residents with job placement services, and Minnesota’s Post Secondary Child Care Grant, which allows adults enrolled in college or technical school to receive grants to offset child care costs.

Skyping into the gathering, Campus Philly Vice President of Partnerships Ashlie Thornbury talked about the successes of her nonprofit, which launched in 2004, in encouraging college students to live and work in the greater Philadelphia area. She was chosen to speak as an example of what another state is doing right to retain college graduates, to provide lessons for Connecticut. Her organization partners with the city of Philadelphia, 34 colleges and universities, and 44 corporate members.

The retention rate of Philadelphia college students is 54%, which more than doubled since the early 2000s, Thornbury said.

Some of Campus Philly’s work includes holding free college nights at arts and culture institutions, sending out student deals via newsletter, running several career networking events each semester, holding an annual event for STEM majors at the Franklin Institute and producing a program for summer interns.

Granted, Garrett Moran of the Governor’s Workforce Council in Connecticut noted that the size and lower cost of living of Philadelphia, relative to New York, is inherently appealing to millennials.

State Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester, challenged the narrative presented Friday on the basis that it’s normal for people to come to Connecticut with the purpose of getting an education and want to go home after.

“Those stats about people going home are never reported,” he said. “All we hear about is people leaving the state, and I think that’s wrong. I think that’s misleading.”

Thornbury noted that Philadelphia’s economy wouldn’t be able to handle a retention rate of 100%. She also spoke of the importance of planting seeds early rather than waiting until students are about to graduate, a sentiment echoed by Jim Lowe, assistant vice provost for career development at UConn.

In a panel discussion, Richard Sugarman of Hartford Promise said he liked that Campus Philly followed up with students, that their efforts weren’t “just a bunch of marketing messages.”

Marty Guay, vice president of business development for Stanley Black & Decker, said he thinks that retention of college students in Connecticut is an urban strategy, that the level of vibrancy in Hartford, Waterbury, Bridgeport and New Haven will be felt elsewhere in the state.

e.moser@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version specifies that 63% of Connecticut college students in certain tech fields, not Connecticut college students overall, leave the state after graduating.

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