(S)TEMporary to Permanent Residents: Keeping Skilled Grads in the Capital Region

In the 2020-2021 academic year, Louisiana State University awarded 921 baccalaureate degrees in engineering. Based on historical data, it’s estimated that just 553 of these students (roughly 59%) will still live and work in Louisiana one year after graduation. Five years after graduation it’s estimated that 544 of these graduates will remain in-state, and roughly 512 will remain 10 years after walking across the stage.  

Louisiana universities produce high-quality STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) talent. According to data from the National Science Foundation, the state produced more science and engineering graduates in 2018 than 20 other states, including regional competitors like Arkansas and Mississippi. However, much of this talent is leaving Louisiana after graduation. This analysis uses a variety of data to help understand the state of STEM-graduate outmigration in the Capital Region, and examines ways to better retain these young professionals.  

The Capital Region STEM Landscape 

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 5.7% of the Baton Rouge metro’s labor force is employed in a STEM occupation. This figure is above the national median of 4.1% and similar to peer metros like Birmingham (5.7%), Greenville (5.6%), and Little Rock (5.6%). Annual median earnings for these occupations in Baton Rouge are also comparable with these other metros. Demand for STEM occupations remains strong – labor analytics firm EMSI estimates that there were 2,800 unique job postings for STEM occupations in December, accounting for 9.7% of all job postings in the Capital Region that month.  

Despite the strong demand for STEM talent, Louisiana is having a tough time retaining these graduates. Using the Census Bureau’s Post-Secondary Employment Outcomes (PSEO) dataset, we can better understand which graduates are leaving the state. This dataset allows us to determine the number and percentage of graduates from LSU and Southern University who remained in-state five years after graduation. The chart below shows programs at LSU for which the percentage of graduates who remained in Louisiana was equal to or lower than 60% and, for Southern, equal to or lower than 40%.  

Program Institute # of Graduates # of Graduates who stay in LA (5 years postgrad) % of Graduates who stay in LA (5 years postgrad) 
All LSU 36,271 23,102 64% 
Visual and Performing Arts LSU 1,041 546 52% 
Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services LSU 419 195 47% 
Mathematics and Statistics LSU 361 194 54% 
Engineering LSU 3,624 2,141 59% 
Architecture and Related Services LSU 840 433 52% 
Multi/Interdisciplinary Studies LSU 480 264 55% 
Parks, Recreation, Leisure, Fitness, and Kinesiology LSU 210 124 59% 
Philosophy and Religious Studies LSU 97 51 53% 
Physical Sciences LSU 366 186 51% 
All SU 8,046 4,959 62% 
English Language and Literature/Letters SU 64 17 27% 
Visual and Performing Arts SU 152 54 36% 
Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services SU 477 186 39% 
Mathematics and Statistics SU 82 29 35% 
Architecture and Related Services SU 103 41 40% 
Natural Resources and Conservation SU 62 17 27% 
Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics SU 102 29 28% 
Programs at LSU for which the percentage of graduates who remained in Louisiana was equal to or lower than 60% and, for Southern, equal to or lower than 40%. 

We found that at LSU, five of the nine programs with the highest percentage of graduates leaving the state are largely STEM-based programs. At Southern, four of the seven programs are STEM programs. Some of these figures are particularly worrying: Louisiana is losing more than half of the computer and information science graduates produced by major four-year institutions in Baton Rouge. This analysis also finds that, of Southern University computer and information science graduates who remain in-state, only 4.8% of them work in the professional, scientific, and technical services industry. Compare this to the 34.9% of similar graduates from LSU who work in the professional, scientific, and technical services industry. This stark difference indicates that even when computer and information science graduates from Southern remain in Louisiana, their talents are not being fully utilized in our state’s economy.   

What can Baton Rouge do?  

It’s reassuring that this trend is not unique to Louisiana. Dartmouth Geography Professor Richard Wright and University of Washington Seattle Geography Professor Mark Ellis found that STEM graduates move to different states at a higher rate than non-STEM graduates. Interstate, or state-to-state, migration rates are higher earlier in a STEM worker’s career and decrease over time. Additionally, they find a clear interstate migration bias away from the eastern US and towards western states including Washington, Colorado, and Oregon. 

Retaining more STEM graduates in the Capital Region who are produced by Louisiana’s state institutions will require continued funding and perseverance in addressing many of the quality-of-life issues present in Baton Rouge. Expanding the quality and quantity of recreational opportunities, developing truly walkable communities, addressing public safety concerns, and increasing the availability of affordable quality housing options will help keep our young talent here.  

Louisiana may not be able to offer the Pacific Northwest climate desired by many STEM emigrates; however, our state can continue to work with local governments and civic institutions to implement plans that address key quality-of-life issues and create a more attractive Louisiana.   

Tips for Businesses 

BRAC leads or participates in a number of talent retention initiatives. Businesses in the Capital Region interested in retaining young STEM talent are encouraged to explore the following: 

  • Join Forum 225 – the region’s largest young professionals’ organization – as a corporate member, and offer promising young talent access. BRAC investors receive 25% off Forum 225’s Red Stick Corporate Partner level. In addition to professional development and networking opportunities, Forum 225 offers young professionals strong social ties and exposure to community volunteer opportunities. Learn more
  • Create a free employer profile on Handshake, and recruit students from the region’s universities into paid internship positions. Paid internships help deepen your talent bench and expose students to career opportunities before graduation. Learn more
  • Consider participating in BRAC’s Talent Action Collaborative (TAC), a task force that aims to create career opportunities for Capital Region students. Participation on TAC is based on investment level with BRAC and by invitation. Learn more
Jake Polansky

Jake serves as an Economic Research and Policy Analyst here at the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. In this role, he is responsible for tracking and analyzing key economic, policy, legislative, business and market trends impacting the nine-parish Capital Region.

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