The Radford University Carilion nursing program. Photo courtesy of Radford University.

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This is the second of a two-part series. Read part one: At 14 of Virginia’s 39 4-year colleges, most graduates leave the state within a decade of graduation.

Virginia is doing a good job of producing a skilled workforce – for other states.

That seems to be one takeaway from a new database of Virginia’s college graduates that the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia has put together. It attempts, with the limitations of the data available, to track where the state’s grads go.

I looked at this data yesterday on a school-by-school basis to show which schools’ graduates were most likely to stay in Virginia (Longwood University) and which ones were most likely to leave the state (Washington & Lee University).

Today I’ll slice all that data a different way, by looking at specific majors at specific schools. The data is too voluminous to look at every major and every school, so instead I’ll zero in on particular fields. One of the professions most in-demand right now is nurses. Cardinal’s Megan Schnabel took a deeper dive into this earlier this year. Here’s mine:

According to the SCHEV database, Radford University graduated 317 students with nursing-related majors from 2010-2012 whose whereabouts can still be tracked. Within five years, only 83 were still in the state – 26.1%.

This out-migration appears to be a new phenomenon.

Between 2001 and 2003, Radford graduated 169 students with nursing-related majors whose whereabouts can still be tracked. Within five years, 112 of them were still in state. Within 10 years, 141 of those could still be tracked – and 99 were still in state. Most of those students tended to stay in Virginia; most of the later cohort were out of state after five years.

We see the same thing at James Madison University.

From 2010 to 2012, the school graduated 346 nursing-related majors who could still be tracked five years later. By then, only 70 were still in Virginia.

The out-migration was even more pronounced at Liberty University.

Between 2010 and 2012, it graduated 762 nursing majors who could be tracked down five years later; by then, just 89 were in Virginia.

Those figures are somewhat more understandable. As I pointed out yesterday, private schools tend to have a higher percentage of out-of-state students to begin with – and out-of-state students tend to move out of the state after graduation. State-supported schools such as Radford and JMU, though, have mostly in-state student bodies, which makes the out-migration of their graduates more … well, interesting at the very least.

Before we go on, I’m certainly not blaming the schools here. They have precisely zero control over where their graduates go after graduation. It’s a free country. I’m not even blaming the graduates themselves. It’s a free country – and a free market. People are perfectly free to move wherever their heart leads them. Still, these numbers do underscore some important policy questions. Gov. Glenn Youngkin has warned that a) more people are moving out of Virginia than moving in and b) Virginia is exporting more college graduates than it imports. (See my previous column on what he’s had to say about this.) To Youngkin, this is a flashing warning light on the dashboard of the state’s economic indicators. From his point of view, Virginia is obviously not creating enough jobs to hold onto its population. Right now, the state’s population is still growing only because births outnumber both deaths and the net out-migration. That may not always be the case, though. Birth rates are falling. At some point, Virginia could start losing population – and those of us in rural areas know all too well what that means. Growing populations certainly bring challenges, sometimes unwelcome challenges. But shrinking populations lead to shrinking economies. If you’re Youngkin, you want to create more jobs in the state to hold onto more of these graduates – and these numbers shine some light on which graduates we’re losing.

To some extent, these numbers are a success story: Virginia seems to be educating nurses so well that they are in demand everywhere. Of course, a cynic might ask why Virginia is investing so much in higher education if so many of our graduates leave the state. One answer is that we very much need the graduates we do retain. There’s always going to be some “leakage.” If the leakage here is high, that’s not on the schools; that’s on the state’s overall economy – and the economies of rival states.

Now let’s look at some other fields.

The world runs by computers, so we need computer science graduates.

Between 2010 and 2012, Virginia Tech produced 274 computer science graduates who could still be tracked five years later. Of those, 33 were still in state.

During that same time, Radford University produced 192 trackable graduates. After five years, 44 were still in state.

James Madison University produced 367 – 95 were still in state.

The University of Virginia produced 139 – 21 were still in state.

You get the picture. On the plus side, we seem to have a pretty good talent pipeline. On the not-so-plus side, our tech sector apparently isn’t big enough or attractive enough to retain more of these students.

We know, generally, where these students are going: 63% of Virginia Tech’s computer science grads in that period wound up between Delaware and Georgia, but a not-so-insignificant 21% of them wound up on the West Coast. We don’t know specifically whether they’re in Silicon Valley or Seattle or where, but there’s a good chance that’s where they are. That figure underscores a point I made earlier: This out-of-state “leakage” suggests that these students have such a good education that they’re in demand.

We also know something else: Money may not be the reason these students are leaving Virginia. The SCHEV database says the median income, five years after graduation, for Tech computer science grads who stayed in Virginia in that period was $103,589. The median income for the entire cohort was $104,044.

Let’s take a look at another major for an in-demand field: biological and biomedical sciences.

From 2010 to 2012, Virginia Tech produced 958 graduates whose addresses could be found five years later; at that point, 167 were still in state. The Roanoke and New River valleys are growing a life sciences sector. (I’ve written previously about that in this column and that column.) The beaker here can be half full or half empty. Obviously we’re losing a lot of those graduates out of state (and no doubt more to other parts of Virginia). That will complicate our efforts to staff a life sciences sector. On the other hand, these numbers represent an opportunity: We can do better, a lot better.

Now for the flip side: Virginia’s community colleges. These numbers should not surprise you but I like numbers so I’ll show them off anyway. Community college graduates overwhelmingly tend to stick around. They tend to be older anyway, and by definition they live in the community where they attend school. Still, this data shows what a good investment community colleges are for Virginia.

At Virginia Highlands Community College, 251 of 349 nursing graduates were still in state five years after graduation – even though that school is near the state line. At Mountain Empire Community College, 257 of 338 were. At Southwest Virginia Community College, 344 of 364 were.

I’ve written before about how Virginia funds its community college system at a much lower level than other states – yet look at the results. Those schools are doing exactly what they’re supposed to do: train students for the state’s workforce. If you’re the governor, trying to figure out how to keep more of Virginia’s college graduates at home, what do you do with all this data?

Dwayne Yancey

Yancey is editor of Cardinal News. His opinions are his own. You can reach him at dwayne@cardinalnews.org.