Lancaster native Claire Dabney graduated from Temple University in May with a degree in advertising and a desire to stay in Philadelphia, a city she had grown to love.
“I personally think people who choose to leave are a little bit crazy,” said Dabney, 22, who landed a job at a digital marketing agency in Northern Liberties.
More college graduates are making the same choice: They’re staying in, coming to, or returning to Philadelphia, according to Campus Philly, a 15-year-old nonprofit aimed at retaining them and attracting more.
Between 2000 and 2017, the population of degree-holders in Philadelphia, ages 25 to 34, grew by 115 percent, Campus Philly said in a report last month. The group cited information compiled by Econsult Solutions and gleaned from census data, that showed 128,400 degree-holders in that age group in 2017, up from 59,700 in 2000.
The growth was the second largest among 13 metropolitan areas in the study, behind only Washington.
Campus Philly and its funders believe the organization can claim some of the credit.
“We think that part of it is having an intentional effort,” said Deborah Diamond, president of Campus Philly. “It’s one that other cities are now trying to replicate.”
Diamond said her organization has worked with Richmond, Va.; Cleveland; and Greensboro, N.C.
Lauren Swartz, senior director of international business for Philadelphia’s Department of Commerce — one of Campus Philly’s funders — also credited the organization: “The correlation is too strong to ignore.”
The increase in college graduates translates to $6.4 billion more in earnings every year and $394 million in tax dollars, Campus Philly said.
The 25-to-34-year-olds are the only age cohort for which the percentage of college graduates in the city is higher than the national average — seven points higher, noted Larry Eichel of the Pew Charitable Trusts. In Philadelphia, nearly 43 percent have degrees, compared with 35.6 percent nationally.
The overall average among all age groups also is creeping up, Eichel said. Citywide it’s about 28 percent, compared with 32 percent nationally.
Certainly some of the growth is attributable to an overall increase in the number of people. Philadelphia also had a steeper climb. It had one of the lower percentages of college graduates to start, which is why Campus Philly got its start.
Its roots date to the early 2000s when the region’s leaders were concerned that only about 18 percent of Philadelphia residents had a degree when so many more jobs were requiring one. Graduate! Philadelphia started around the same time, with the goal of getting residents with some college but no degree to complete their education.
Officially incorporated in 2004, Campus Philly is funded by businesses, 34 member colleges, and the Commerce Department. Among the colleges are Rutgers-Camden, Rowan, and Stockton in New Jersey; the University of Pennsylvania, Temple, and Drexel in the city; and Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and Swarthmore in the suburbs. The organization draws from as far away as Millersville University in Lancaster County, Lehigh University in Bethlehem, and the University of Delaware.
Striving to get college students to fall in love with the city, Campus Philly hosts events for the region’s college students. The largest is CollegeFest, a five-hour festival held every September (this year on Sept. 7) at Dilworth Park, with music, food, and free museum admission. The group also offers scavenger hunts and presentations on all the city has to offer, nights at the opera, and events at the Barnes Museum. It distributes 80,000 “insider guides” to college students every year.
“They are on the bed of every Temple freshman,” Diamond said.
The organization collects student email addresses to stay in touch. It hosts networking events and runs a career website with internship and job opportunities locally. Every year at Temple, Campus Philly cohosts a leadership conference for students from around the region.
The Commerce Department uses Campus Philly as a “concierge” for international businesses interested in locating in the city and in search of research partners and access to the young talent pool at local colleges, said Swartz.
And Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and Swarthmore relied on the organization’s help in launching a pilot program last year that allows students to take courses in Philadelphia. Campus Philly gave students a key overview of Philadelphia, said Calista Cleary, the program’s director.
“It’s really, really valuable for us in terms of getting our students acclimated to the city,” she said.
Campus Philly’s recent report also delved into how many students who graduated from its 34 colleges from 2010 to 2014 stayed in the region, defined as the 11-county statistical area (Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, and Salem Counties in New Jersey; Delaware, Montgomery, Bucks, Chester, and Philadelphia Counties in Pennsylvania; New Castle County, Del.; and Cecil County, Md.
The answer? Fifty-four percent.
That data also came from Econsult, which mined LinkedIn accounts for 1.2 million graduates from the 34 member colleges.
Diamond acknowledged that the LinkedIn data, which rely on self-reporting, aren’t perfect, but estimates they capture more than two-thirds of graduates.
“It’s as close to perfect for college graduates as any public data set is at this point,” she said.
Campus Philly generated numbers for each campus. They varied depending on the type of institution. Rutgers-Camden, which draws many of its students locally, retains 78 percent. Colleges with a larger national draw, such as Penn and Swarthmore, kept fewer.
Mary Beth Daisey, Rutgers-Camden’s vice chancellor for students affairs, wasn’t surprised.
“We have a lot of first-generation students,” she said. “They are very career-focused and want to have a job when they graduate.”
They work locally while they are in college and stay local, she said.
The region does a good job retaining graduates in careers such as nursing, accounting, electrical engineering, and education, Diamond said. It doesn’t do so well in computer science, marketing, medicine, law, and political science.
Staying in the region isn’t for everyone. Nicholas Scheib, who got his degree in strategic communications and political science from Temple this year, left for a job in policy communications in Washington.
“I wanted to be in the center of where a lot of companies are and where policy happens,” he said.
For some students, staying local means staying home.
Michael Krone, 21, a recent Penn graduate from Lafayette Hill, will start work in management consulting next month at a firm not far from Penn.
“The city is growing and becoming a center of innovation,” he said. “Now more than ever, it’s a really awesome opportunity to stick with Philly.”
Dabney loves that Philadelphia is big, but not as big as New York.
“There’s always something new to explore,” she said. “Even after I went to college here for four years, I feel like I haven’t seen everything.”