How Can Philadelphia Attract College Graduates?

January 31, 2012

How can Philadelphia attract college graduates? Compared to the largest cultural hubs, like New York and Los Angeles, surely it doesn’t stand a chance. Doesn’t every twenty-something want to test their mettle in the biggest, trendiest cities? If anyone would tolerate matchbox apartments and cutthroat competition for work, it would be the young. Right?

Actually, migration research done by Joel Kotkin suggests the exact opposite. In a study of the 52 most populous metropolitan areas in America, the cities who have increased the rates of incoming college graduate residents were smaller, cheaper, and largely spread between the coasts. Some of the cities included on his top ten list of biggest brain magnets are more intuitive. For example, New Orleans (#1) is welcoming back many former residents since the hurricane, Seattle (#10) is the home of many major employers, and Denver (#8) hosts technology companies and is a popular destination for outdoor sports. However, cities like Kansas City, Mo./Kan. (#5), Austin Round Rock, Texas  and Columbus, Ohio (#9) reveal an unexpected trend of more practical thinking. Rather than choosing cities like New York (#29) or Los Angeles (#37), graduates seem to prefer the benefits of lower costs of living, lower population density, and low unemployment.

What does this mean for Philadelphia? Philadelphia (#12) was the highest ranked for cities over a population of 5 million. Clearly we are doing something right—but what? And how can we do even better? Kotkin argues that “the best strategy for attracting graduates lies in creating jobs, as well as in offering both affordable housing and a range of housing options, including both reasonably priced urban and lower-density living. Generally speaking an area that is economically vital as well as physically or culturally appealing will do best.” Additionally, he predicts greater success for the more family-oriented regions that are prepared for when the current generation of graduates begin to raise families. With organizations such as Campus Philly working to attract, engage, and retain college students, a growing cultural community, and a diverse real estate market, is Philadelphia poised to corner the college graduate market? It seems we are at least moving in the right direction.      

Click on the link below to listen to Fels Executive Director, David Thornburgh’s thoughts on the green economy and its role in the up coming presidential election. David's observations on issues that affect business, government, and nonprofits in the region can be heard each week on KYW 1060 AM throughout the Greater Philadelphia region.