College Student Retention: Essential for the Pittsburgh Region

Written by Aaron Ventresca, Intern

After graduating from a Pittsburgh college, where do students go? Despite the city’s reasonable cost of living and bountiful leisure activities, students leave the region in large numbers. Each year, colleges in the Pittsburgh area produce roughly 40,000 graduates but only half remain, according to the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. Pittsburgh’s graduate retention rate is one of the worst in the nation, especially when compared to Detroit’s staggering 77.7%. The million-dollar question thus proves as follows: why would half of Pittsburgh graduates leave the city? 

Despite mass migration following college graduation, Pittsburgh has been ranked as the sixth best city for college graduates. Pittsburgh has a thriving arts, entertainment, and leisure scene. The city boasts incredible access to medicine with UPMC, and jobs in the technology and healthcare fields are multiplying due to the high number of world-renown corporate employers. Cultural activities flourish in the Strip District and ethnic centers nestled within the region. The cost of living is 5.7% below the national average, with 92% of housing deemed “affordable” for recent graduates. 

Despite all of these benefits, college graduates still vanish in vast numbers. Based on the wealth of benefits to life in Pittsburgh, it is logical to conclude that graduates are not effectively exposed to the bountiful opportunities in Pittsburgh. 

Various programs have been instituted to increase graduate retention in the region through integrating college students into the employment, leisure, and inclusion opportunities Pittsburgh has to offer. For example, the Vibrant Pittsburgh Connection Accelerator Mentoring Program provides a tangible development opportunity for college students by matching them with a business professional who will help them learn about job opportunities in their chosen field of study, while the Allegheny Conference on Community Development's Pittsburgh Passport program shares the beauty and boundless opportunity in the Pittsburgh region with summer interns, providing them reason to stay in Pittsburgh. Colleges in the region, namely Carnegie Mellon University, have begun summer internship programs that connect current undergraduate students with employers in a specific area of expertise. Through programs such as these, summer interns often build strong connections with mentors in their field and are much more likely to remain in the region post-graduation.

With a growing baby boomer population, the city will need to hire approximately 1.2 million upskilled workers to meet growing job openings during the next decade. It is essential to start new initiatives that embed college students into the region before they graduate, whether through internships, cultural activities, or greater knowledge of the region. Pittsburgh is already a vibrant city; with the implementation of programs targeting the retention of college students, the “Steel City” will become even stronger.