What keeps college grads in Michigan

June 24, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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A survey of nearly 4,000 students at 14 independent colleges and universities in Michigan reveals the reasons some talented young people choose to leave Michigan after graduation — and what it will take to get them to stay.

Why and how Michigan college students form their opinions about Michigan cities, and what can be done to reposition Michigan as a smart career destination for grads were the central questions of the study.

The Michigan Colleges Foundation, a consortium of 14 independent colleges and universities located throughout Michigan — including Aquinas, Calvin and Hope — commissioned the study by Madison, Wisc.-based Next Generation Consulting, leaders in the field of millennial market research and talent retention. The foundation’s survey was distributed by students, comprised of one student from each of the 14 schools and the Van Andel Millennial Board, who developed their own plans for promoting the survey to their fellow students, which resulted in the high number of responses.

Although 89 percent of the students value the earning opportunities in a potential location when deciding where to live, only 11 percent agreed that Michigan has broad enough job opportunities. Of Michigan's three major metropolitan areas — Detroit, Lansing and Grand Rapids — students feel the most positive about Grand Rapids.

Fifty-nine percent of the Michigan natives who completed the survey are considering staying in the state after graduation, and 30 percent are unsure of their plans. The survey results suggest that Michigan has the potential to retain almost 90 percent of its native students through active engagement and peer networking efforts, which are critical components in influencing perceptions.

The survey indicated that successfully keeping this young talent in Michigan will depend upon the ability of businesses and learning institutions to partner together to promote to these students specific quality of life amenities such as good-paying jobs, affordable housing, easy commutes, and access to parks, bike and hiking trails.

The study is phase one of MCF's Think Michigan campaign, an integrated, Michigan-focused strategy to attract, engage and retain the state's top young talent. With seed funds from the Charter One Foundation, MCF benchmarked comparable cities nationally, assessing their efforts to attract and retain talent. Three focus groups on MCF campuses were conducted and a survey was distributed to students on all 14 campuses to assess student life and career preferences, as well as perceptions of opportunities in Michigan's major urban areas. A comprehensive report was developed benchmarking Southeast Michigan to national millennial retention trends and identifying clear marketing approaches and themes.

"Our plan is to utilize this foundational study to create a targeted Michigan marketing effort at our member colleges and universities," said MCF President Bob Bartlett. "Connecting students in personal and meaningful ways to Michigan's future before they graduate and plan their lives elsewhere is a critical component to the state's economic growth."

Established in 1949, the MCF institutions collectively represent what is, in effect, the third largest university in the state. Along with Aquinas, Calvin and Hope, those institutions are Adrian College, Albion College, Alma College, Andrews University, Hillsdale College, Kalamazoo College, Madonna University, Marygrove College, Olivet College, Siena Heights University and Spring Arbor University.

The next phase of MCF's Think Michigan campaign will promote the state's urban regions with a statewide marketing campaign designed to reach a sizable population of the more than 38,000 emerging college graduates on its campuses on the brink of making "place" decisions.

The campaign will include consistent and frequent messaging to reach students through on-campus programs and city-based events and activities as well as interfacing with MCF's new "concierge" recruiting program with leading Michigan employers.

"Despite the broad recognition that young talent is critical to the state's future, few efforts have been made to market Michigan to its greatest talent source: students on its college campuses. MCF is working to engage students before they make their decisions to relocate," said Denise Christy, president of Humana Michigan and Indiana and MCF board chair. "The implications of this campaign will be far-reaching and will benefit all of Michigan's urban centers."

MCF will partner with existing organizations working in the state on talent retention and development. For more information about MCF and to see the study online, visit www.michigancolleges.org

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