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October 31, 2014

To keep more talent, panel calls for stronger ties between Worcester, college students

Greater Worcester is home to 12 colleges and universities that graduated 7,500 students in 2014. But for most, their time in Worcester is short lived.

Speakers at Thursday’s Worcester Regional Research Bureau’s panel discussion, “Degrees of Separation: Retaining College Graduates in Greater Worcester,” held at Assumption College, speculated about why relatively few grads stay local, and how community leaders can help them change their minds.

The bureau published a survey of the Class of 2014 in August that showed about 33 percent of students planned to live in Central Mass. after graduation, with 18 percent of them planning to live in Worcester and 15 percent elsewhere in the region. Meanwhile, 23 percent said they were planning to live in the metro Boston area.

According to the survey, several factors draw students to other cities and states after graduation.

Among them: a desire to be near family and friends, a lack of job opportunities, and a perception that Worcester is not a desirable place to live.

While proximity to family and friends may be a fixed factor for many students, panelists discussed efforts to address the latter two. Nikki DiOrio, Assumption’s director of career development, said she suspects there’s not a true lack of job opportunities in Greater Worcester, but students’ awareness of local companies is somewhat limited.

“Students might not recognize a company as a great opportunity because they’ve never heard of it,” she said.

Since spring, a new committee of career services professionals from Greater Worcester schools has been working on projects to introduce students and employers to each other. DiOrio said more emphasis on internships and other engagement programs may help solve that disconnect.

Other panelists Thursday included Patrick Muldoon, CEO of UMass Memorial Medical Center, and Nicolas Guerra, an aide to U.S. Rep. James McGovern.

Guerra, an Assumption graduate, cited himself an example of how landing an internship during college can convince students to stay in Worcester after graduating. He interned for McGovern, which led to a job two years later.

But Guerra suggested that Worcester needs to sell itself better. He said the nightlife in the city is vibrant, but many students don’t know it.

“It’s that branding Worcester needs to work on,” Guerra said.

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