Graduates From America’s Largest Schools Move Here With Their Diplomas

The notion that Americans need a college education to succeed in the modern workforce is at the root of most of the millennial generation’s problems: With Americans bearing a collective $1.4 trillion debt burden, economists have blamed this debt pile for holding back millennials – keeping them from buying homes and starting families. 

But the truth is much more complex. 

In a recently published study, the Wall Street Journal gathered data from 445 large research universities and liberal arts colleges – as well as NCAA D-I schools – detailing where their alumni move after college.

The maps below show their movement to 70 big metropolitan areas, as well as the share who moved to smaller communities.  

As one might expect, graduates from brand-name Ivy League schools, along with their cohorts at smaller liberal arts institutions, overwhelmingly flock to urban areas like New York City, Washington DC and San Francisco.

Meanwhile, students who attended large public research universities are more likely to settle down in suburban areas.

WSJ breaks down its findings in a presentation showing how graduates disperse throughout the country.

Las Vegas Has Little To Offer:


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Some Punch Above Their Weight:


The biggest cities don’t necessarily draw the most students from colleges and universities in our study.

San Francisco, for example ranks 11th in population but fifth in drawing power, attracting 2% or more of alumni from 139 schools.

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Smaller Metro Areas Sometimes Have More Drawing Power:



Boston is the 10th biggest metro but ranks sixth in drawing 2% or more of alumni from institutions traced by some 120 schools.

However, New York City, the country’s largest city, also draws 2% or more of the alumni of 263 schools, the most of any US city.

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Smaller Metro And Rural Areas Have Less Drawing Power:


Only 62 schools in WSJ’s database saw more than half of their alumni move to smaller metropolitan and rural areas. Many of these colleges and universities are part of state university systems like the University of Connecticut or Purdue.

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Big East Alumni Are More Likely To Live In Cities; SEC Grads Less So:


The Big East is the most urbane conference. Schools like Georgetown and Villanova send a large segment of their grads to New York City and Washington DC. Each of the 10 schools in the conference sends more than 75% of its former students to big metropolitan areas.


The SEC, which includes Ole Miss, Auburn and Kentucky, sends more students to smaller cities and rural areas than any other conference. Among SEC schools, only Vanderbilt sends more than 75% of its alumni to big city metro areas.

And as millennials continue to favor urban environments, it’s likely these trends will continue to intensify, sending urban property values even higher than they already are.