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Connecticut: the Nation’s Leading Exporter of College Freshmen

College students are among Connecticut’s biggest exports. From an economic perspective, this unfortunately means a loss of both Connecticut dollars to pay for out-of-state college costs, and future workforce talent.

Over the past two decades, roughly half of Connecticut’s high school graduates who have gone to college right after graduation have done so outside the state. In 1992 — the last year for which official figures are available — some 19,768 Connecticut residents were new college freshmen. Of these, 10,218 left Connecticut for college elsewhere, leaving only 48% remaining in the state — the lowest percentage of any state in the nation. Only the District of Columbia (26%) retained fewer of its own college freshmen.

More importantly, Connecticut is a net exporter of college students; that is significantly more Connecticut students leave the state for school than students from other states come here to attend college. While 10,218 left Connecticut in 1992, only 5,601 new freshmen came here from other states. In contrast, 60% of all states had positive migration balances, attracting more new freshmen than they exported. Only New Jersey, with 48,053 new freshmen and a negative balance of 18,462, and Illinois, with 72,460 new freshmen and a negative balance 7,310, had bigger absolute deficits in freshmen.

Connecticut’s situation is unique in New England. As illustrated by Table One, Maine also was a net exporter, yet it retained almost 60% of its own freshmen. The rest of the region’s states were all net importers of freshmen.

TABLE ONE

Percentage of Retained Freshmen and the Import/Export Balance
of Freshmen throughout New England: 1992

State

% Freshmen Retained in State

Freshmen Import/Export Balance

Connecticut 48% -4,617
Maine 59% -852
Massachusetts 67% +7,500
New Hampshire 56% +1,791
Rhode Island 66% +4,422
Vermont 53% +1,562
U.S. Average 81% -

Once they leave the state, where do most of Connecticut’s college freshmen go? First, the vast majority in 1992 — 95.2%— enrolled in out-of-state four-year or baccalaureate-granting institutions, rather than at two-year community colleges. Second, 74.5% chose independent rather than public colleges in those other states. Third and not surprisingly, colleges and universities in Massachusetts (2,341), New York (1,821), Rhode Island (961), Pennsylvania (926), and New Hampshire (611) captured the most Connecticut freshmen who attended out-of-state institutions. However, every state in the union except Wyoming enrolled at least one of these wandering young Nutmeggers.

Some may have the impression that Connecticut freshmen leave the state to attend elite institutions; such is not the case, however. Table Two lists those out-of-state institutions which enrolled at least 100 Connecticut freshmen four years ago. Clearly absent from this roster are the Ivy’s. The institutions listed enrolled 2,413 Connecticut residents or 26.6% of the total. In all, 913 different out-of-state institutions attracted at least one Connecticut freshman that year.

TABLE TWO

Out-of-State Institutions Enrolling at Least One Hundred
Connecticut Freshmen: 1992

College or University

Number of Connecticut Freshmen

University of Rhode Island 224
Boston College 199
Boston University 194
Northeastern University 186
Keene State College (NH) 160
Providence College 156
Johnson & Wales University (RI) 154
Marist College (NY) 154
University of Vermount 139
Syracuse University 138
Ithaca College (NY) 138
University of Mass (Amherst) 137
University of New Hampshire 133
Western New England College (MA) 128
Roger Williams University 127
Bryant College (RI) 124
Springfield College (MA) 117
Dean Junior College (MA) 105

What do these numbers mean for Connecticut? Why do so many Connecticut residents choose to attend college out-of-state?

While no hard data exists to directly answer the latter, the likely response involves several factors. First, Connecticut is a small state and to "go away to college" means going somewhere in another state. Second, many Connecticut families are relatively wealthy and have the financial wherewithal to send one or more kids to a private school away from home. Third, many Connecticut people tend to identify more with independent colleges and universities rather than publics. None of these statements alone explains Connecticut’s net exportation of students, but taken together, they probably provide much of the answer, complicating the work of policy-makers seeking to change this pattern.

Scattered research suggests that most graduating college students seek their first job in the region where they attended college. For example, the hypothetical Connecticut resident who attends college in Massachusetts may look for his or her first job in Connecticut, but probably also in Boston. If that hypothetical Connecticut resident has just graduated from a college in Pennsylvania or North Carolina or Colorado or California, the chances of a first job in Connecticut get less and less. In sum, exporting college students probably means regularly exporting future high skilled workers as well. Thus Connecticut pays not only for its own students’ education out-of-state, but also for the importation of skilled replacement labor where necessary.

Finally, it is interesting to estimate the amount of Connecticut cash which leaves the state each year to pay the tuition, fees, room and board, air fares, and incidental living expenses of Connecticut residents attending colleges in other states. Crudely, 4,500 net freshmen exports per year probably turns into something more than 10,000 net Connecticut residents (or former Connecticut residents) who are undergraduates at out-of-state institutions at any given time. If the average Connecticut resident spends a minimum of $10,000 each year to attend college elsewhere, that equates to at least $100 million in Connecticut money that flows to other states each year to educate Connecticut residents. And this is an exceedingly conservative estimate.

The obvious remaining question is: could Connecticut colleges and universities absorb these additional Connecticut resident students if they chose to attend college here in state? Given the state’s demographic trends, Connecticut colleges and universities may well have the capacity to absorb many of these students well into the future.

This article was authored by Jospeh Zikmund II, Chief Information Officer for the Connecticut Department of Higher Education. For more information about college attendance patterns in Connecticut, please call (860) 947-1833.

The Connecticut Department of Higher Education is the administrative arm of the Board of Governors for Higher Education, the state’s coordinating and policy-making agency for colleges and universities in Connecticut.


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