How Your School Affects Where You Live

Where do graduates move after college? Ivy League grads move to the big cities. Community college grads stay close to home. But what about everyone else?

This report is based on Emsi's database of over 100 million social profiles and resumes. If you'd like to learn more about the underlying data or access it for yourself, check out our Alumni Outcomes tool or contact us.


Your choice of college affects not only your academic career, but also where you live after graduation. We recently partnered with The Wall Street Journal to publish research on which U.S. cities draw the most college graduates. Hint: the big cities tend to dominate, but not always.

Now we want to consider some new questions. Where are the graduates of each school moving? How far do they tend to migrate from their alma mater? Does the type of institution affect these movement patterns?

Let’s turn to the data. For the WSJ article, we used over 100 million resumes and online profiles to build a database of 445 schools, including prominent research institutions, liberal arts colleges, and NCAA Division 1 schools. In this article, we’ll use that same methodology but widen the net to include online schools and community colleges. In total, we analyzed 3,740 schools.


  • On average, a student who attends a community college will stay within 300 miles of the college and 61% live within 50 miles of the college.
  • State university grads generally stay within state lines with an average distance of 330 miles from their alma mater, and 40% are within 50 miles of the university.
  • Graduates of elite schools flock to the big cities and tend to move nearly 700 miles away from their universities. Nearly 40% are over 500 miles from the university.
  • Graduates of schools with large (or fully) online offerings live all over the U.S., and over 60% are more than 500 miles away from their university's central location.

In the graphic below, we see the average migration distances for students of each type of school. However, for online schools, it’s not migration so much as students taking courses from their homes all over the country.

Here, we can see some similar migration patterns between each school type. Notice how they all group together between the 50-100 and 200-500 mile ranges.

Community Colleges

True to their name, community colleges are built around serving the needs of local students and employers. And the curriculum is often tailored specifically to the surrounding economy. The vast majority of community college alumni stay within their school’s county or neighboring counties, as you can see in the graphics. This makes community-serving institutions very compelling from an economic and workforce development point-of-view.

The maps throughout this analysis are broken down by county and shaded to illustrate the density of a school’s alumni population. Dark blue indicates high density, while light blue indicates low density.

South Seattle Community College

San Jacinto College

Pellissippi State Community College

McHenry State Community College

State Universities and Systems

Like community colleges, state universities focus on serving the needs of the state. For example, neighboring land-grant institutions Washington State University and University of Idaho both focus on educating the students of their home states, with particular emphasis on agriculture, science, engineering, etc. as required by The Morrill Acts.

State universities directly partner with local employers and build educational programs and pathways to promote inroads to regional jobs and opportunities. Consequently, they appeal to students from the state, and many of the grads stay within state lines. Note just how strong that trend is from state to state.

State University of New York (SUNY)

University of Minnesota

University of California (The UC System)

University of Florida

Elite Institutions

Unlike graduates from community colleges and state institutions, graduates from elite institutions are not bound by communities or states. Here, we see that they tend to flock to the major economic hubs, regardless of which school they attended. And although the top city for each school is determined by its location, the rest of the migration patterns are nearly identical. If we took away the labels, could you tell one of the graphics below from the other?

Columbia University

Northwestern University

Georgetown University

Stanford University

Regional and Online Institutions

Regional institutions, such as Southern New Hampshire University, started out as local education providers but have since expanded their footprint online. For example, SNHU has only 3,000 students on campus, but over 90,000 online. A perk of online education is that it can be done from anywhere, so it’s not surprising to see how spread out online students are. It is interesting, though, that there is still a relatively high concentration near their alma mater.

Southern New Hampshire University

Western Govenor's University

Liberty University

University of Maryland University College

Top States for Retention

States are working hard to retain their college talent, but combating brain drain is never easy. Which states have the best graduate retention rates?

Currently, Texas has the strongest retention rate for college graduates. Georgia, Washington, and population giants California and Florida also retain more than 60% of their graduates. New Hampshire, Vermont, West Virginia, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Wyoming have the lowest retention rates, keeping less than 30% of their college grads.

Conclusion and Takeaways

Location after graduation is shaped not just by which school students attend, but the type of school they attend. Students who attend community college will likely stay local, while those pursing elite pedigrees will gravitate to major metros and big-hitting companies.

This information is useful for:

  • Students and their families deciding which schools to attend
  • Colleges and universities looking to understand their impact and reach
  • Communities and employers evaluating the talent moving in and out of their regions

For educators, businesses, and communities, understanding where local talent moves can have a serious impact on decision-making and collaboration. Graduate migration patterns are just the starting point.

For more information about Emsi or our data, contact us.