The 10 Most Popular Cities for College Grads

Americans value mobility. But if you want to move up in the world, sometimes you have to move, literally. In a recession, that's a problem.

In 2010, migration within the United States slowed to its lowest rate in recorded history, according to new research from William Frey at the Brookings Institution. Among college graduates, the story is particularly striking. Here are the 10 most popular cities for college graduates since the recession:

Frey's analysis challenges the story of the 2010 Census, which is the Rise of the Sun Belt. In the last decade, 7.5 million people -- more than the total population of Massachusetts and Vermont -- moved to Texas and California, while Arizona and Nevada led the nation in pace of growth. Imagine a river flowing from the northeast to the southwest, and you've got a sense of America's general migration pattern.

That's changing, fast. At the height of the housing boom, the most popular destinations for college graduates were Phoenix, Seattle, Atlanta, Riverside (CA), and Charlotte. But when the bubble burst, Texas cities have zoomed up the list: Austin and Dallas were the most popular destinations for bachelor degree earners between 2007 and 2009.

"In 2005-2007, college-educated adults, like other segments of the population, were strongly attracted to "bubble" metro areas like Riverside, Phoenix and Las Vegas," Frey writes. After the burst, degree-earns are clustering in more "knowledge economy" metros, like Austin, Raleigh, Charlotte and Seattle.

According to Frey's figures, the five metro areas with the highest concentration of people with bachelors degrees are: Washington, D.C./Arlington (47%), San Francisco (43%), San Jose (43%), Boston (42%), and Raleigh (42%). The most popular destination in America, Austin (38%), is number six on that list. New York City (36%) is number ten.

When I asked Frey to call out some of the more surprising results of his analysis, he pointed out that interstate migration rates have generally fallen over the last few decades, but the recession accelerated the trend.

interstate migration.png
Why didn't the recession increase migration, sending families fleeing from weak states like Florida to stronger states like Texas? Frey answered: "The financial crisis meant families couldn't get a loan to get a house. They couldn't sell a house. They were frozen in place because of the housing market and the paucity of jobs."

In his Brookings paper, Frey concluded by sounding the alarm on slow interstate migration:

The recent more tentative migration patterns of the younger and "best and brightest" segments of our population are holding back the free flow of human and social capital that has made our society more vital and dynamic than most of our developed country peers. This slowdown, in addition to the decline in immigration can be expected to pick up when the economy revives. But if it takes too long, we run the risk of creating a "lost generation" of young adults, the likes of which we have not seen for some time.


This slideshow ranks cities by total migration among BA earners. But as a percentage of total population, the cities with the fastest growing college-educated community are (in order): Austin, Raleigh, Portland (OR), Riverside, Phoenix, Charlotte, San Antonio, Tampa, Nashville, and Kansas City.

Presented by

Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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