Most Penn students choose to leave the City of Brotherly Love for more lucrative pastures. In 1740, the nation's first university opened its doors, drawing the region's best and brightest to the City of Brotherly Love. Today, more than 250 years later, the Philadelphia area boasts the second largest concentration of undergraduate and graduate college students in the country, with more than 250,000 college-age students calling the city home. But those 250,000 are a transient group. For decades, the Delaware Valley -- the region spanning Philadelphia and nine counties in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware -- has witnessed a mass exodus of its students to other urban areas after they graduate. In fact, a survey conducted in February by four Drexel University students showed that 62 percent of 177 undergraduate and graduate students at five Philadelphia area schools -- Penn, Drexel, Temple, Villanova and St. Joseph's universities -- plan to leave the region after they graduate and seek employment elsewhere. What draws so many students to other East Coast cities like New York, Boston and Washington, D.C.? Better yet, what pushes them away from Philadelphia? Penn, the City of Philadelphia and other area institutions are in search of these answers -- answers they hope will help reverse the trend of students turning their tassels and then packing their bags. Gone for good When Wharton senior Dylan Brooks was looking for a job this fall, he didn't look in Philadelphia. And the oversight, he said, was no accident. "[Philadelphia] has so many problems that are being covered up with band-aids? the city wage tax, crime? the roads are terrible," Brooks said. "There isn't any reason to be here." "It's kind of like a black hole. There's no way out," he continued. "The wage tax rate has flushed all the business out." Brooks, who accepted a position at Bank of America in Charlotte, N.C., explained that he found cities farther south more attractive because their taxes are lower. Meanwhile, College senior Cory Reynolds said that while her employment plans for next year are not definite, she intends to work in either Washington, D.C., or New York as a paralegal or teacher. "Philly, as a city, is declining in terms of interest," she said. "It's not attractive enough to stay around." Reynolds said that although she believes Philadelphia offers as many employment opportunities as other large cities, its social scene is lacking. In Philadelphia, she explained, many recent graduates move to the suburbs, but in New York, there are greater populations of younger people living in downtown Manhattan. The Drexel survey suggests that these students' opinions are not uncommon. While more than three quarters of the 177 students surveyed said they considered working in Philadelphia, nearly half -- 46 percent -- of them listed New York City as their first choice job location. And 17, 11, 8 and 6 percents of students said they would choose Chicago, San Francisco, Boston and Dallas, respectively. Carol de Fries, executive director of Penn's Office of Government, Community and Public Affairs, said she thinks the city's retention rate may be suffering because many students are unaware of the employment opportunities in the area or have poor perceptions of the city. "Is it the lack of jobs that prevents students from staying? Is it a negative image of Philadelphia?" de Fries asked. "Students don't try for jobs if they have a negative image." One question on the Drexel survey attempted to answer these questions, asking students to list Philadelphia's major shortcomings. About 32 percent of students said a major downfall is that stores and other establishments close too early, 21 percent highlighted crime, 11 percent reported the lack of nightlife, 10 percent said the wage tax and 9 percent indicated uncleanliness. And while less than 10 percent listed transportation as a downside, Peggy Curchack, associate director of Penn's Career Services office, said the issue is a huge problem. "There isn't a single hub center where all the work is, as there is in Manhattan." Because Philadelphia lacks a similar job core downtown, she said, many of the students who do stay in the area seek work in surrounding towns. And since many of those areas are not easily accessible by public transportation, commuting to and from the city is a chore. When asked to rate the Philadelphia job market on a scale of one to 10 -- 10 being the highest -- only 6 percent gave it a 10, and 24 percent rated it an eight. An additional 29 percent gave a rating of seven. Career Services Director Patricia Rose defended Philadelphia by saying that it does indeed offer a wide variety of employment opportunities, especially in venture capital, Internet start-ups, teaching and nursing. She did admit, however, that there often are more opportunities in other cities -- a fact that students realize. "Do we have as many opportunities as other parts of the country? No. But we have some," Rose said. Here to stay It was the price tag that sold 1999 Wharton graduate Janelle Bundas on Philadelphia. Bundas, an investment banking analyst at Legg Mason in Philadelphia, said she chose to work in the city for a number of reasons, especially because of its low cost of living. "It's a better overall experience, even though the firm is not as big and prestigious as those in New York. [Philadelphia] is smaller, more personal and less hectic," she said. "I didn't want to be a small fish in a very big ocean in terms of company size and size of the city." But Bundas' enthusiasm did not carry over to the recent Penn grads that her company tried to recruit this year. Although one of the four sought-after students accepted a job with the company, the position was for a branch in Virginia. Bundas added that Legg Mason experiences more difficulty recruiting students from Penn than those from Drexel and Villanova. "In terms of investment banking, [Penn students] consider the major names," Bundas said. "[But] the stereotype that to be successful you need to be in New York is very incorrect." Curchack said a major factor of students' decisions to stay in the area is their career choices. "If students want banking-related jobs or paralegal jobs, New York is seen as home," she said. "Philadelphia, quite frankly, is a less interesting financial market." Rose agreed, "If the top opportunity in any field is in some other place, they're likely to pursue it." St. Joseph's Career Services Director Matthew Brink said a student's hometown also plays a role in where students choose to work. He said, for example, that St. Joe's draws more students from the Philadelphia area than Penn does -- and, in turn, manages to retain nearly 75 percent of its students. And Drexel juniors Adam Uffalussy and William Hadden say Philadelphia is the ideal spot for them to open their proposed business, Sigma ASP -- an application service provider that specializes in education software. "The market for our business is perfect here," Hadden said, noting that Philadelphia public schools are often unable to afford sufficient technological resources for students due to a lack of funding. Building "Philicon Valley" Though Philadelphia has not yet reached its college graduate magnet potential, it's getting there. Former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell organized a city-wide retention committee in November 1997 to enhance the city's image, to raise awareness of area career opportunities and to create a so-called "Philicon Valley." To lure graduates, the city and individual schools are using methods ranging from conferences to prizes to encourage start-up companies For the past two years, the city's retention committee has held a conference for students to highlight the benefits of starting businesses in the area. And as part of the event, students have the chance to win up to $1,000 for their start-up business plans. Bonnie Grant, who heads the committee, said the annual program "is designed to demystify the process of what it takes to be successful in the area." A similar event -- E-Day, to be held at Drexel in June -- will address issues of e-commerce and entrepreneurship, and students will have another opportunity to enter their business plans into a contest. And last October the committee held the first annual Collegefest to promote Philadelphia's businesses and social options. "Before the initiative, it was low on the radar screen in terms of a real economic development strategy," de Fries said, adding that while it's still too early to measure the effort's tangible effects, students' growing interest in the different conferences is indicative of the future.Comments powered by Disqus
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