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College Grads Leaving California for Greener – and Cheaper — Pastures

The student exodus doesn’t seem to be tapering off anytime soon.

You’ve just graduated college, what are you going to do next? Move out of California seems to be the common answer to that question today. The Golden State’s woes continue to escalate as college graduates look for greener pastures, better job opportunities, and lower living costs after graduating from the state’s universities. In 2022, California was ranked the second best state, behind New York, to get a college degree, according to BestColleges research. Now, however, students are grabbing their diplomas and hitting the road. While this trend may have started picking up during the COVID pandemic, it is not slowing down, causing worry for local politicians who expected to gain educated citizens to add to the job force.

Students Moving Out of California

Data from the U.S. Department of Education revealed that in 2020 more students from California than ever before started going to colleges based in other states. About 40,000 freshmen went to another state for higher education, which is up by 27% from ten years ago. This represents nearly 22% of freshmen from the state who started attending a four-year college in the fall of 2020. During the same time, around 16,500 students left their home states to study in the Golden State, not even half of the number lost.

So where did these students go? New York drew about 3,000 of the freshmen, Massachusetts received about 2,200, and Arizona, Oregon, Hawaii, and Idaho got about 10% of the first-time transfer students.

More recently, HireAHelper published research on the pattern of degree-holding Americans leaving the state and found that “four of the six top metros’ graduates most likely to leave were in California.” Newsweek reports, “The state saw a 23 percent decrease in those residents in 2023.” Several cities in the Golden State had a substantial loss of students: Oxnard (-51%), Los Angeles (-32%), San Jose (-48%), and San Francisco (-25%).

Politics was not listed as a reason for transferring, but the cost of living and housing prices were the top reasons given. The average rent for an apartment is $2,481 and rental houses are around $3,533. In comparison, in Florida, apartments average just under $2,000 – houses go for $2,400. “Recently, big tech layoffs have been in the news, so California might not be as attractive to job-seekers,” Miranda Marquit, consumer advocate for HireAHelper, told Newsweek. “Florida has a lower cost of living and the cities where college-educated millennials and Gen Z-ers are moving have good job prospects.” Furthermore, she added:

“Nevada’s labor force reached an all-time high at the end of 2023. Wisconsin projects that it will add more than 80,000 jobs to its economy through 2025, with the biggest gains in computer and mathematical occupations. Add to the fact that these areas have a lower cost of living than places like California and New York, and they seem more attractive. You can get paid reasonably well and your dollar goes further.”

An October article from CNBC listed the ten most affordable college towns in the United States, and half of them are in Texas. California didn’t make the list.

Now, in 2024, other issues may inspire a graduating student to relocate. The recent pro-Palestine protests at colleges across the nation led to classes being closed and even graduation ceremonies being canceled. And then there’s the illegal immigration situation. Polls show that younger adults are starting to want stricter laws and policies in this area, and California has become the top destination since Texas has cracked down on illegal border crossers.

Aside from students relocating, college dropouts are more likely to live in California than in any other state, according to October data from Education Data Initiative. The dropout rate is higher in this state than in any other, and new dropouts make up 6% of the nationwide numbers. The study showed that 32.9% of undergraduates drop out before completing their programs; California residents are 46.5% more likely to drop out compared to the average US average.


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