Some argue that Michigan needs to become a more attractive place for college graduates in order to grow the state economy. But the past decade suggests that simply targeting people with college degrees is an ineffective strategy. The reason is that people move to places where there are employment opportunities, regardless of whether they have a college degree or not.

Since 2007 more college graduates moved to Texas than to any other state. The Lone Star State attracted 218,178 people with a bachelor’s degree or higher. It also drew in 360,144 people who lacked that level of certification. On the other end of the spectrum, 257,871 degree-holders left New York for greener pastures over the period. And another 518,823 people without degrees left that state too.

This is the case for nearly every state. Those that successfully attract college graduates are also successfully attracting people without college degrees. In other words, attractive places entice people to move there regardless of whether they have college certificates or not. And, on the flip side, both those with degrees and those without tend to leave places where opportunities are scarcer.

The only state in the union to break the mold seems to be California, which added 33,195 people with degrees, but lost 557,521 people without them.

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Regardless of these trends, Michigan residents are pelted with proposals to attract college-educated millennials. Yet plans to gentrify a neighborhood or add bike lanes are not likely to turn around the economy. They may still be worth doing — but not for the promise of economic prosperity.

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Instead, broad-based improvements to the business climate are a better strategy. Based on the data, the added employment opportunities will attract the educated — as well as everybody else.


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