A new study shows that a focus on graduating more students from West Virginia’s public higher education institutions is paying off for the state in terms of employment for those graduates.

According to the study completed for the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission by West Virginia University, 2,500 more graduates were working in West Virginia in 2014 than in 2013. Researchers attribute the increase in employment to an increase in available graduates for the workforce.

“The Commission has led a concerted effort to graduate more students from West Virginia’s colleges and universities since 2013,” said study co-author John Deskins, director of the WVU Bureau of Business and Economic Research, which operates in the College of Business and Economics. “As a result of having more graduates in West Virginia to choose from, some 2,500 more students were working in the state. That represents nearly a 5 percent increase in the number of graduates working in West Virginia compared to 2013 and is almost 10 percent higher than in 2010.”

“From Higher Education to Work in West Virginia, 2014” indicates that of the 124,358 students who graduated from public higher education in West Virginia in the last decade, 58,730 were working in West Virginia in 2014, which translates into a work participation rate of 47.2 percent.

“What the data tell us is that there are economic benefits of graduating more people to West Virginia’s economy,” said Dr. Eric Bowen, co-author of the study and BBER research assistant professor, “even if a portion of them leave the state.”

In-state students were far more likely to work in the state after graduation than out-of-state students, with nearly 62 percent of in-state students employed in West Virginia.

“West Virginia’s investments in higher education yield huge returns for the state’s economy, both in terms of the economic impact of our higher education institutions and the graduates they produce,” said Dr. Paul Hill, Chancellor of the Commission. “When we support our students, they give back to West Virginia. College graduates are more likely to be employed, and they help drive innovation and offer service to their communities. Helping more students earn a college degree is a critical component in our work to move West Virginia forward.”

Additionally, the study shows that high percentages of PROMISE and Higher Education Grant Program (HEGP) recipients who graduate from a university or college in West Virginia continue to stay in the state.

“Work participation rates for graduates who received a PROMISE scholarship (57.7 percent) or need-based grants from the Higher Education Grant Program (65.7 percent) were significantly higher than the overall rate of 47.2 percent,” read the study.

Deskins said the positive trends for PROMISE and HEGP grant recipients could be important as the state’s scholarship programs are evaluated for the future by policymakers.

As in the recent past, the majority of West Virginia’s higher education institution alumni are working in the health care field — 20,319 graduates, or 16 percent of total graduates. The business, management and marketing category was a close second with 18,612 graduates, approximately 15 percent of all graduates.

“The health care sector leading the way on hiring higher ed graduates is further evidence of the investment in this industry in the recent past,” Deskins said. “Health care has experienced substantial growth and we believe that growth will continue.”

The report is released annually for the Commission and provides a comprehensive analysis of employment and income outcomes for graduates of West Virginia’s public colleges and universities. The study examines work participation and income for graduates of the last decade who worked in the state during 2014, and considered how numerous factors relate to labor market outcomes, such as degree earned, area of concentration, personal characteristics (such as gender and race), academic achievement and tuition assistance.

“Industry trends, economic factors and associated data all tell us that the employment picture in West Virginia is in the midst of significant change,” Deskins said. “The evolution of labor markets at the local, statewide, national and global levels demands that the development of human capital in West Virginia evolves, too, and that is directly connected to the prosperity of our state. As we look to a better West Virginia, this is the kind of research that is so crucial in establishing better public policies surrounding higher education for the future.”

Bowen noted other interesting findings in the study, including:

  • Graduates were highly concentrated in Kanawha, Monongalia and Cabell counties, attracting more than 36 percent of West Virginia higher education students
  • Women represent the majority (56.8 percent) of public higher education graduates in West Virginia over the past decade, and women exhibit a significantly higher work participation rate (51.8 percent for women compared with 41.2 percent for men)
  • A significant income gap exists between men and women graduates who work in the state, with men earning 31 percent more than women, without accounting for differences in college major or the industry in which they are employed

For a free PDF download of the study, go to http://be.wvu.edu/bber/pdfs/highered-to-work-2014.pdf. For further information on the WVU College of Business and Economics, follow B&E on Twitter at @wvucobe or visit be.wvu.edu.