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The New England "Brain Drain" And Impact On Boston College Athletics


A new report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston shows that recent college graduates leave New England at a faster rate than any region of the country. A year after graduation, only 63.7 percent of 2008 graduates of New England schools were still living in the region. In comparison, 88 percent of college grads in the West, 82.7 percent in the Middle Atlantic and 79 percent in the South Atlantic stayed in the area for at least a year after earning a degree.

Massachusetts ranked 38th among states for retaining recent college grads, keeping just 52 percent of the 2008 class a year after graduation. That's down from 60 percent for the class of 2000, and 17 percent lower than the national average.

"In New England, we don't have coal, we don't have wonderful weather, we have smart people," said Alicia Sasser Modestino, the report's author and senior economist at the Boston Fed.

The New England "brain drain" is becoming a concern for local-area businesses, and should be an increasing concern for one local-area business in particular -- Boston College athletics.

As the school continues to draw from a more national applicant pool and as recent grads leave the area at an increased rate, it will become even more difficult for BC to improve on declining attendance in both the revenue sports. The smaller the population of local grads in the area, the harder it will be to get them to Alumni Stadium on Saturdays or Conte Forum for a midweek, 9 PM men's basketball tip. That's bad news for a football and men's basketball program that has seen its attendance drop significantly over the last 4-5 years.

The study paints a pretty grim picture for Boston College's football program in particular. Of the states that ranked below Massachusetts for retaining recent college grads, only four -- Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii and Iowa -- are home to one or more Division I-A college football programs.

38. Massachusetts 52.0 Boston College, UMass
39. Maine 50.7 N/A
40. Arizona 48.2 Arizona, Arizona State
41. Connecticut 47.9 Connecticut
42. Hawaii 45.1 Hawaii
43. Iowa 44.2 Iowa, Iowa State
44. New Hampshire 38.4 N/A
45. Rhode Island 32.7 N/A
46. Delaware 27.6 N/A
47. Vermont 20.0 N/A
48. District of Columbia 10.4 N/A
-- Alaska N/A N/A
-- North Dakota N/A N/A
-- Wyoming N/A N/A

* Share of Respondents Living in the Same State as BA Institution One Year After Graduation

Boston College is in a unique situation in that many grads, if not staying in Massachusetts, still stay relatively local a year after graduation. The school has a significant grad population that moves to other New England states or New York City post-graduation, making Chestnut Hill reasonably accessible for a weekend trip for a football game.

You'll also note that of the states towards the bottom of this list, seven -- Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Delaware, Vermont -- as well as the District of Columbia, rank in the bottom fifth in the nation by total area; making it easier to cross state lines post-grad but still remain relatively close to campus.

However, as a private school on the smaller side that produces less than 10,000 graduates a year, this trend can present other problems that can be more easily overcome by a school like Arizona State with an undergrad enrollment pushing 60,000.

This doesn't mean that these macro factors working against BC can't be overcome. It just means that the athletics department needs to work harder and smarter than your average school to fill Alumni Stadium and Conte Forum.

For football, with a sizeable alumni and season ticket holder base living in New York City and other cities four or five hours out, have to question whether BC's agreement with ESPN and the ACC to host one Friday night home game a season makes the most sense for the program in terms of attendance and season ticket sales. Scheduling non-conference opponents that will draw well also becomes of increasing importance to a program like BC. Attendance will improve as the program wins more games, but there are plenty of other ways of increasing sales and improving attendance.

For men's basketball, the department has to be smarter with the placement of non-conference home games on the schedule. Avoid scheduling local rivalry games over winter break. Better balance the number of home vs. road/neutral games in a year given long-standing obligations (ACC/Big Ten Challenge, series with PC) and bring at least one major conference program outside of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge to campus every year. The target market segment for basketball is more heavily weighted towards locals over alumni given the schedule, so a very different marketing mix needs to be used.

Winning will solve a lot of BC's attendance issues for the revenue sports, but it doesn't solve everything. Especially when combating fan apathy and declining performance with unfavorable demographic trends.