Are College Grads Really Moving Away?


by Rob White

Turns out our graduates may not be moving away at nearly the rate as we may have previously thought.

In a recent article by Aaron M. Renn posted on the e-magazine New Geography, the author looked at college degree migration and found that some previously held views about where graduates go isn’t necessarily supported by the data.

Renn analyzed net out- and in- migration of college grads over age 25 with a bachelor’s degree or higher in metro areas across the US. What he found was that places like New York and Chicago are net losers for college grads and that places like Austin, Texas, Dallas and Phoenix are big winners.

What got me thinking about this issue was a meeting last night of the Sacramento Region Startup Community Builders held at Capsity (, a coworking space just south of downtown Sacramento… If you are wondering what a coworking space is, think artist collaborative for business and social entrepreneurs. This group is meeting as one of the specific tasks called out in the regional Next Economy plan that Davis (and many other cities) have pledged to support (

At this meeting of about 25 entrepreneurs, angel investors, startup advocates, university representatives and innovation wonks, we discussed the resources that exist in the greater Sacramento area for the startup community. We came up with three flip chart pages of resources in 10 minutes, but the point of the effort was to then come up with ways to roadmap these resources for those starting a new venture. How do people that want to start a venture find the resources easily and effectively?

For the term ‘venture’ we collectively decided that refers to a wide-variety of opportunities to include business enterprises, social organizations and civic efforts. This what we see happening in most regions that are working to capture innovation… entrepreneurial efforts aren’t just being developed around business ideas anymore, but around the whole spectrum of opportunities and issues of a community.

Our group also discussed what brings people to the Sacramento region, especially the younger creative class and technologist. We talked about the growing amount of cultural activities, supportive infrastructure for new startups and the reemergence of the ‘pioneering’ spirit, not unlike that which founded many places in the Sacramento region (including Davis).

All of this led me to think about how do we actually stack up when it comes to attracting young talent when compared to places like Austin, Silicon Valley and Seattle? Of course, there is no comparison, right? Many of us have lamented on the Vanguard about our graduates moving away from Davis for lack of opportunity, right?

Though the data doesn’t appear to be as conclusive as one might hope in answering that question directly, it does seem to support the notion that at least some large percentage of the graduates from the Sacramento region’s universities are staying local. And there is substantive evidence that the Sacramento region has become a draw for the college graduate (though not at the level of Austin or even Seattle).

In Renn’s analysis, the Sacramento metro area ranked 19th for metro areas over one million with a net migration of 1,816 adults over age 25 with a bachelor’s degree or higher. In this analysis, we ranked third highest in California, behind Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario (number eight with a net migration of 5,308) and San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward (number 15 with a net migration of 2,779). That is a delta of just under 1,000 grads between the ranking of Sacramento and San Francisco metro areas.

And surprisingly, we out ranked the metro areas of San Diego-Carlsbad (number 33 with a net migration of -476), San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara (number 44 with a net migration of -1,825) and Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim (number 50 with a net migration of -10,981).

Of course, you can’t conclude that these data are all for just recent grads as the sample population was adults over 25 with a bachelor’s degree or higher. But the younger graduates are likely to be more mobile and so it can likely be extrapolated that much of the population shift is of a younger demographic.

Why does this matter? As we discuss the future of what will happen in Davis with regards to creating an innovation economy, it appears that lost talent from graduates leaving and the lack of young creatives and technologist moving to our area may not be an immediate factor that impacts our efforts. This of course can change rapidly if we aren’t careful to nurture the environment that makes an academic community a net draw, but the indicators seem to demonstrate that we have some forward momentum.

This hopefully bodes well for Davis as we work to support our growing tech businesses and encourage new venture starts. As I cursorily survey the landscape of startup opportunities in and around Davis, I am always pleasantly surprised by the amount of activity.

At City Hall, we are made aware of at least one new tech company per week either starting up or moving to Davis. And we constantly hear about growth of companies as we work to find them places to move their company in Davis (which is getting increasingly harder).

And to draw a connection between the net migration of grads and the increasing demands of ventures in Davis and Sacramento, let me leave you with this thought. Did you realize that five of Davis’ largest tech employers were started in Davis? In no particular order, they are FMC Schilling Robotics, Marrone Bio Innovations, Blue Oak Energy, Cedaron and DMG Mori. That doesn’t count Bayer CropScience (formerly AgraQuest) which is in the process of moving to West Sacramento. Or the whole host of companies started by, managed by and/or employing significant numbers of UC Davis grads, including Mytrus, Gold Standard Diagnostics, Arcadia Biosciences, BioConsortia, Engage3, Novozymes, Barobo… and the list goes on.

With clear indicators that grads are likely staying and are most certainly moving into the region in a net migration, Davis is most certainly poised to take strong advantage of the creativity and passion that comes with a growing number of grads.

Thanks for considering my thoughts. Your reactions and questions are always welcome. My email is if you choose to email me directly.

About The Author

Rob White is the Chief Innovation Officer for the City of Davis and was selected as a 2012 White House Champion of Change for Local Innovation. He serves as an ex-officio Board Member for techDAVIS (a local tech entrepreneur industry group), as an executive Board Member for the Innovate North State iHub, and as a Board Member for Hacker Lab and the California Network for Manufacturing Innovation. He is a candidate for the Doctorate in Policy, Planning and Development from the University of Southern California and has a Masters from USC in Planning and Development and a Bachelors of Science in Geology from Chico State.

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