• Campus Philly
  • Josh Sevin
Categorized As:
Education & Talent

Greater Philadelphia: A Brain Engine

As Campus Philly celebrates 10 years of attracting, engaging and retaining college students in our region, we look at the organization's origins, findings from its latest survey of recent college graduates, and ways to increase graduate retention in the future.


From Idea to Impact


Of all the good ideas and collaborations that trace their origins back to the Economy League, Campus Philly has a special place in our hearts. Campus Philly’s beginnings date all the way back to 2000, when we began a research and strategy project to examine the role of the region’s higher education institutions in growing a talented workforce.


The findings were troubling: despite the 300,000 students graduating from our more than 100 colleges and universities each year, Greater Philadelphia was lagging behind peer metros on key indicators such as educational attainment and the retention of non-native students. In response, a coalition of organizations -- including GPTMC, Innovation Philadelphia, the City of Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania – formed the Knowledge Industry Partnership. These organizations worked together to develop a shared strategy to attract, engage and retain college students in our region.


In 2004, Campus Philly was formed to spearhead the Knowledge Industry Partnership’s student engagement efforts. Two years later, it became the home for all three of the Partnership’s attract, engage and retain programs. Over the last ten years, Campus Philly has become a nationally-recognized nonprofit with more than 30 higher education partners. It aims to keep recent grads here in the region by connecting them with career prospects (through a robust internship program and connections to job opportunities) and with the broader community (by providing access to student discounts and information about events, transportation and local neighborhoods).


Assessing the Current Landscape

At their annual meeting last month, Campus Philly released Choosing Philadelphia: 2014 Report on Recent College GraduatesThe report, which explores the motivations and demographics of college graduates who choose to reside in Philadelphia, includes survey findings from nearly 3,400 recent graduates from 40 regional colleges and universities.

Today, more students than ever before are recommending Philadelphia as a place to live.


According to the 2014 survey results, 73% of respondents said that they would recommend the region, compared to only 55% in 2010, when a similar study was conducted. (While recognizing that these two surveys were completed by two distinct groups of student respondents, this increase certainly points to a promising trend.)


However, when it comes to encouraging students to remain in Philadelphia after graduation, there is still more work to be done. According to the survey results, 57% of students remained in Philadelphia at least one year after graduation. Sixty-nine percent of “native” Philadelphians remained, compared to 44% of “non-natives.” Students who had a high familiarity with Philadelphia during their time at school – those who left campus for leisure activities, practical experience, or networking – were more likely to stay in Philadelphia after graduation than those who did not engage in these types of off-campus opportunities. Respondents who were familiar with Campus Philly engaged in off-campus activities at a consistently higher rate than those not familiar with the organization.


Looking Ahead

The findings from Campus Philly’s 2014 report suggest that we are succeeding in winning the hearts – but perhaps not yet the economic minds – of Philadelphia’s college students. Why is this? One reason may be that Philadelphia has not adequately carved out an “economic placeholder” for itself. Compared with other major nearby metros (like finance and arts in New York or government in DC), the relative diversity of our economy can make it difficult for new graduates to quickly define career prospects in the region.  With its vast network of “eds and meds” research institutions, Philadelphia has an opportunity to brand itself more clearly as a life sciences hub and to promote the wide array of professions available in this industry to recent grads.


Encouragingly, the survey revealed that students who had an internship in Philadelphia were more likely to stay than those who had one elsewhere. This is why Campus Philly’s latest strategic plan places an even bigger emphasis on internships and connecting students who have come to appreciate the region’s offering to businesses. We know that Campus Philly’s efforts to accelerate internships are already paying off – 81% of surveyed graduates with internship experience are now employed, including 90% who are in a job as part of a career pathway or as a stepping stone to a career.


The founding and evolution of Campus Philly is just one example of how solid information combined with cross-sector collaboration has spurred change and growth in our region. But Campus Philly hasn’t done it alone. The increases in young people’s perceptions of Philadelphia as a place they want to live have been influenced by sustained investments in placemaking (by organizations like Center City District and University City District), community-building (by groups like Young Involved Philadelphia) and branding (through efforts like the PHLCVB’s PHL marketing campaign). Similarly, the local business community has a clear opportunity to work with Campus Philly and others to offer internships to Greater Philadelphia’s college students to help them see a professional future for themselves here  -- creating a win-win for employers, students and the region’s economy.