Why do well educated young people leave Iowa?

In a Technology Association of Iowa board meeting many weeks ago, the topic of talent emerged. I always think this is an interesting topic. The specific discussion led to, “why do students leave Iowa who study here?”

The outcome of the TAI board meeting was to come up with something to present that covered:

  1. How many people in technology related fields stay in the state of Iowa after studying here.
  2. How many people in technology related fields leave the state after studying here.
  3. How much longer people stay with a company in Iowa vs. the bay area. 

What I did wasn’t really a goose chase. I just spent some time asking questions and what I realized is that Iowa technology companies are probably leaving something on the table.

How many students in tech related fields stay in the state after they study here?

In 2017, there were 3,174 college graduates majoring in technical fields in Iowa. Out of 3,174 college graduates in technical fields in Iowa, approximately 715 are employed by technology companies in the same state.

This leads me to believe about 22% of students who study in STEM related fields stay and work in Iowa.

If you drill down a bit deeper. There were 364 computer science majors in Iowa in 2017. In addition, eight percent of STEM graduates majored in Computer Science. Moreover, STEM jobs make up 17% of the workforce in Iowa. The University of Iowa has some interesting data that might be useful in helping us understand how many folks stay vs. leave. I wasn’t able to successfully drill down deeper to understand the percentage of computer science majors who stay vs. move.

How many students leave the state after they study here?

Being overly simplistic it looks like ~2,459 students per year who study in the state of Iowa in STEM related fields leave the state after their studies are complete.

The college list used for the questions above was the list from College Simply. There is at least some margin for error so take these numbers with a grain of salt.

This leads me to believe about 78% of students who study in STEM related fields leave Iowa. 

I couldn’t yet tell you where they go. That’s a project and question for another day.

Do people in Iowa really stay at their job longer than someone in the bay?

If we look at data available for large employers, it doesn’t look like it. The averages appear to be similar.

The average tenure for STEM-focused companies located in Silicon Valley is 5.08 years. The average tenure for STEM-focused companies located in Iowa is 4.87 years. 

These numbers were arrived at using publicly available data for large bay area companies and Iowa based businesses or those that have substantial operations here.

This question also begs to be asked differently with consideration for age and the length of time someone spent on their studies. There is a number of questions looming regarding data that isn’t publicly available. 

So what’s the next step?

At a minimum it appears that Iowa technology  companies have something to gain by doing more to get in front of college students in Iowa.

I think the obvious answer is getting closer to the students to learn more from them directly. I do know that the outcome of this research for me personally will be allocating more time to being in the universities.

I’m sure it goes without saying but this surely wasn’t a heavily funded or professional research project. I used what I could find and what I had access to. Use the information at your own risk 😉

Either way, I don’t think this information belongs solely in a private board meeting and I’m hopeful that someone else finds a use or insight in it. I don’t really know why people stay or why they leave but I’ll keep working on this.

1 thought on “Why do well educated young people leave Iowa?”

  1. Thank you for your work in advancing this topic. This is one of the most important questions we should be asking. Yes, sometimes Iowa companies are just not competitive from an initial salary perspective. So we counter with the lower cost of living argument. But there is more to this question that is not being answered. We need to do a better job of listening to these young people about what they want in a community and from our companies and see what we can address as a state and as ecosystems within it. Thanks Ben.

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