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Boston Is Dying

Don't believe a word of the brain drain hysteria. Boston is one of only two talent production industry clusters anywhere in the United States.
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Boston skyline from Student Village II at Boston University. (PHOTO: HENRY HAN/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Boston skyline from Student Village II at Boston University. (PHOTO: HENRY HAN/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Boston has a Detroit-sized brain drain problem. What good are all those world class universities and colleges if graduates flee the region? Michigan's outmigration problem pales in comparison to the talent exodus from Massachusetts. All of New England, America's first Rust Belt, is dying. From the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston:

Over the past two decades, the population of recent college graduates has been growing more slowly in New England than in the rest of the United States. Between 1990 and 2010, the number of individuals aged 22-27 years with a bachelor’s degree or higher grew by only 12.1 percent in New England—less than one-third the national increase. Most of this slower growth reflects the region’s lower fertility rates, leaving fewer native students of college age to advance through the education pipeline. ...

... In some sense, New England is a victim of its own success. The region’s colleges and universities excel at attracting college students from outside the region. They also produce highly skilled college graduates who are likely to have job opportunities in any number of locations.

Looks dire for Boston and New England. Those considering a Beantown job, you might want to consider prospects elsewhere. Remember the sage advice from the Detroit Regional Chamber, “Talent retention is a key driver of economic vitality.” In that department, California is tops.

I have a confession. Boston isn't dying. Don't believe a word of the brain drain hysteria. Despite the lousy retention rates, the metro is a talent magnet. Consider graduates from outside New England. Once done with school, are they more likely to go to Boston or Detroit?

Boston is one of two talent production industry clusters in the United States. Pittsburgh is the other. Institutions of higher education in areas of demographic decline (i.e. shrinking number of local high school graduates) must figure out ways to export services. In other words, import students or die.

Out of state students are more likely to leave upon college graduation. Private colleges have lower retention rates than public universities. The more education you receive, the greater your geographic mobility tends to be. Boston is not a victim of its own success. It is a great center of global innovation. Talent and companies are flocking to, not fleeing from, the sources of talent production. Boston and Pittsburgh are ahead of the demographic trends taking root across the country and around the world. The only hangups impeding progress are the obsession with brain drain and talent non-compete agreements.