Above: College students at the Art Museum for CollegeFest2014.

In the article “How to keep a millennial in Philly,” Billy Penn points out Philadelphia’s strong trend in attracting college educated young people, especially to the urban core of the city as outlined in a recent analysis by City Observatory. The article presents the phenomenon as mysterious and perhaps random, when, in fact, many organizations have made significant efforts to connect college students to the city:

  1. There’s PHENND (focused on connecting college students to volunteer activities in their neighborhoods);
  2. The Philadelphia Orchestra’s EZSeatU, a $25 student membership to the Orchestra that provides access to any concert all year long;
  3. Drexel’s Passport to the Arts program which President Papadakis began and which many colleges emulated (including Temple, Arcadia and LaSalle). Campus Philly combined these programs into Open Arts in 2013;
  4. Temple’s Inclusive Leadership Conference, which began as a leadership conference just for Temple students and expanded, through their partnership with Campus Philly, to include students from more than 30 regional colleges and universities in 2009;
  5. And the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s College Day, which provided free access to the Museum for college students and was adopted by Campus Philly to become College Day on the Parkway in the late 90s and CollegeFest in 2014.

A common theme in many of these, of course, is the creation of Campus Philly itself. More than 10 years ago, a consortium of higher education institutions, the City of Philadelphia and economic development organizations sought to leverage the opportunity that having so many college students in the region presented. Campus Philly was created and was a unique model for engaging students in the life of the region and providing them with access to internships, which, in 2004, were not nearly as popular or prevalent as they are now.

The work proved to be effective. In 2004 only 29% of the non-native college students from those universities stayed in the region after graduation. By 2010, 48% of non-native college students reported staying after graduation.

Campus Philly operates on the insight that students seek both job opportunity and a community they love when choosing a place to go after graduation, so the organization focuses on those twin desires and presents students with connections to internships and employers and exposure to some of our strongest and most appealing communities: arts and culture; neighborhoods; civic engagement.

Campus Philly is about to release its 2014 study of recent college graduates and the data is trending strongly in favor of Philadelphia. In fact, it shows that whether students stay in the region, leave immediately after graduation or some combination of staying and returning in later years, they feel strongly positive about Philadelphia, a sentiment they take with them wherever in the world they land. Findings from the 2014 study will be released in a report called Choosing Philadelphia on December 5, 2014. In addition to recent graduates’ destinations post-graduation, the study examines engagement with Philadelphia while in college and the impact of Campus Philly programs on regional college students.

Vibrant regions attract new residents and send forth great talent. As important and impactful as the work of Campus Philly is, “keeping” and “retaining” talent should not be the sole focus for vibrant regions.

Philadelphia benefits from new residents coming in and from our own talented young people exploring and connecting to other regions (and often returning with new perspectives and global connections.) The vitality that comes from people coming and going from our region is what Philadelphia has now and should be focused on maximizing.

Deborah Diamond is the president of Campus Philly.