Data: roughly half of Hawkeye, Cyclone grads leave the state

Pursuit of higher wages, cultural options listed as among factors

Students make their way to the stage during commencement ceremonies for the University of Iowa's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa, on Saturday, May 16, 2015. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Students make their way to the stage during commencement ceremonies for the University of Iowa's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa, on Saturday, May 16, 2015. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Iowa’s population has remained largely stagnant over several decades and, despite state efforts to entice young workers to stay, many Iowa college graduates leaving the state are keeping it that way.

“I always saw Drake as more of a transitional place or, like all of Iowa as a more transitional place,” said Joey Wolfe, 21.

Wolfe, a Kansas City, Mo., native said he plans to move to Seattle and apply to the University of Washington Law School after graduating from Drake University with degrees in English and political science.

Brain drain — the exodus of young and well-educated individuals, such as Wolfe, from a state economy — raises plenty of concerns about the health and future of a state’s economy.

“Certainly we know that Iowa needs to grow its population in order to provide the companies that are growing here and choosing Iowa with the highly skilled employees that they are going to need,” said Tina Hoffman, marketing and communications director for the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

But re-branding the state to appeal to a young work force is challenging.

“It’s more than just showing we have good night life, with a bunch of bars and restaurants,” said Danny Laudick, talent solutions coordinator for the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area. “It’s showing that people in the area have the same interests as you and you are not limiting yourself by staying here.”

Some data are available to track how many students move out of the state, including surveys conducted by Iowa’s regent universities. The data show roughly half of students from the University of Iowa and Iowa State University leave, while many from the University of Northern Iowa, 85 percent in the latest survey, stayed.


Although anecdotal evidence suggests some graduates will return to the state after a few years, no data exists to show just how many come back.

reasons for leaving

Student journalists interviewed graduating students at seven campuses about their post-graduation plans as part of the IowaWatch College Media Project, an effort to explain brain drain among 2015 Iowa college graduates. Most of the 18 graduating seniors interviewed — 14 — said they planned to leave Iowa, although some native Iowans said they would like to return to settle down and be near family.

“All of my family lives in the Des Moines area, so if I wanted to get married and settle down, I would definitely consider moving back to Des Moines to be close to my parents,” said Simpson College senior Emma Jones of Ankeny.

Jones, 22, accepted a job with Epic, a medical software company in Madison, Wisc., but said she had thought about looking for jobs in Des Moines or Iowa City.

Jacob Mallams, 21, an Iowa State University student who will move to Wichita, Kan., for a job at Cessna Aircraft Co. after graduating, said he grew up in a rural Iowa town, New London, and, “it’s always been good to me.”

“It’s kind of always been my idea that I would move out for a little bit, then eventually come back,” he said.

“But I do want to get out. I feel like there’s more stuff I need to experience before I settle down.”

Iowa has faced slow population growth and a high percentage of elderly residents for decades. Its population grew 4.4 percent from the 2000 census to 2010 census, half the national rate for that time period.


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U.S. Census data show that Iowa had the lowest percent increase in population growth from 1900 to 2010 of all 50 states. During the last census count in 2010, Iowa’s elderly population, which represented nearly 15 percent of the total population, placed it among the five states with the highest percentage of people aged 65 and older.

Census numbers also show declining populations in rural counties.

State officials say they are working to increase the appeal of Iowa to young, skilled workers and the recent additions of companies like Facebook and Google boosted Iowa’s reputation as a state for young professionals.

Angi McKie, senior director of operations at the UI Pomerantz Career Center, said several factors influence a student’s decision to leave the state, including whether the student is from out of state and what the student wants in a job.

McKie said professionals at the center try to make students aware of job opportunities in Iowa through the center’s Consider Iowa program.

Hoffman said the Economic Development Authority has internship programs related to targeted industries, “putting some dollars behind making sure that our companies that are growing can go out and seek interns that are in college right now.”

“It’s almost a trial run for both the student and the company to see if that’s a relationship that might work over a longer term,” she said.

REASONS for staying

The survey explored several factors that could influence students’ decisions to stay, including attractive job benefits, outdoor recreation opportunities, clean or safe communities and affordable costs of living.

Large percentages in the survey said competitive wages or entertainment options would influence their decisions, although relatively few thought either was available. Of the respondents, 84 percent said competitive wages would get them to stay, but only 46 percent said Iowa offers such wages.


Students’ dissatisfaction with entertainment opportunities grew between surveys. In 2008, 51 percent agreed that Iowa had interesting entertainment options. That decreased to roughly 37 percent in 2013.

l This story was a project of the Iowa Center for Public Affairs, a non-profit, online news website. Contributing reporters were: Danielle Ferguson, Iowa State University; Tessa Lengeling, Simpson College; Jacob Luplow, Cornell College; Cole Norum and Susan Nourse, Drake University; Allison Wong, Loras College; Nicholas Fisher, University of Northern Iowa; and Meghan Horihan, Erin Selin and Danielle Wilde, University of Iowa.



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