Tallahassee struggles to retain college graduates

The “TLH” sculpture just west of Cascades Park. Photo Courtesy: Chante Coleman

Zhané Ferrell, a sophomore at Florida A&M University, has no intention of staying in the capital city post-graduation.

“Tallahassee is a stepping stone,” she said.

Despite the presence of three institutions of higher education with a combined student population exceeding 60,000, Tallahassee struggles to retain an educated workforce. Many students leave Tallahassee due to the lack of job opportunities and social appeal. Chelsea Bethel, a senior at FAMU, said her post-graduate plans do not involve Tallahassee.

“Outside of a job in my field of study, the city does not have much to offer,” Bethel said. “Tallahassee is a beautiful city, but there is not much to do here in comparison to other big cities.”

Tallahassee officials are aware of how challenging it is to retain graduates and are hoping to turn Tallahassee into a more appealing place to live for future graduates.

According to the city’s official Five-Year Strategic Plan document, a major priority for Tallahassee for 2020-2024 is to focus on economic development. Two objectives of the economic development plan are to enhance and modernize infrastructure to enable capacity for growth and to solicit opportunity for new and emerging industries to locate in Tallahassee.

Not only does this mean more job opportunities, but it also means new job opportunities.

City officials are not the only ones making an effort to keep graduates in Tallahassee.

The Knight Creative Communities Institute (KCCI) is a nonprofit organization that has been successful in enhancing the community since its start in 2007.

According to kccitallahassee.com, KCCI brings together a diverse group of community “catalysts” who implement a sense of place projects each year that support Tallahassee’s economic mobility while working to attract, retain and harness talent and increase entrepreneurship.

KCCI is aware of the vital role retaining an educated workforce plays in supporting and growing an economy. A 2009 study by the Knight Foundation found that only 1 in 4 graduates from any of Tallahassee’s three major colleges were still living in Tallahassee after graduating between 2004 and 2006. Of those that stayed, 85 percent joined the workforce while the other 15 percent stayed to continue their education.

The study also revealed that students view Tallahassee as a great place to be a college student, but do not consider it a great place to live as a young professional. Jheanel Dawes, a senior at Florida State University, said she was never interested in staying in Tallahassee.

“I have never found an interest in living here,” Dawes said. “The area has never felt like home to me. I would rather be in South Florida, where I feel more comfortable and there are more things to do.”

If the city can successfully create a more at-home atmosphere and new jobs, students who feel the same as Dawes may consider Tallahassee their forever home.