In-State Workforce Retention of Utah's Postsecondary Graduates

Published: February 2020


The state of Utah values postsecondary graduates who remain in the state as they become contributors to a well-educated workforce. However, little is known about the factors that influence their decision to stay in Utah. This study aims to identify the characteristics that impact workforce retention following graduation. By determining the most important characteristics, this study also provides predictions on the workforce retention rates of the 2016 graduation cohort of the Utah System of Higher Education (USHE) and the Utah System of Technical Colleges (UTech).


2013 Cohorts

This study took a retrospective look at one- and five-year workforce retention by various characteristics of two cohorts: students who graduated from a USHE institution in 2013 and those who completed an award through UTech in 2013.

Overall Workforce Retention Rates

Overall, both cohorts had a higher workforce retention rate at the one-year mark compared to the five-year mark. Eighty percent of UTech graduates were identified in Utah's wage records one year after certificate completion, while 70% of USHE graduates were identified in wage records one year after graduation.

Characteristics of Graduates Who Stay in Utah

One-year and five-year workforce retention were broken down across several characteristics: geographic origin, demographics (gender, age, race/ethnicity), award level, graduating institution, field of study, employment history, and financial aid. Being an in-state student was associated with being more likely than out-of-state students to remain in the state's workforce for both USHE and UTech. In addition, graduates who worked one year prior to graduation had higher retention rates than those who did not work for both USHE and UTech.


Selecting Important Features

Several characteristics were identified as important features to include for predicting workforce retention rates of the 2016 cohort. To identify important features, a decision tree was used to score them based on the mean reduction in impurity (error) across all nodes. Influential features received higher scores than those with less impact. The result was 17 features selected to predict one-year retention and 16 features for five-year retention for the USHE cohort. For the UTech cohort, 33 features were used to predict one-year retention, and 35 features for five-year retention.

Predictive Models

Using the 2012 cohort, data was split into a training set (75%) and test set (25%) to develop eight classification models — four for each retention mark. In each model, a dummy variable for retention was used as the target. Machine learning techniques used included: gradient boosted decision trees (Model 1), kernel support vector machines (Model 2), k-nearest neighbors (Model 3), and an artificial neural network (Model 4). Each technique was selected for its ability to model and predict binary outcomes.

2016 Cohort Predictions

The most accurate and stable models were selected to predict the workforce retention rates of the 2016 cohort. The selected models were the gradient boosted decision trees and artificial neural networks. The models correctly predicted the overall retention rate for one year after graduation within 6% for both USHE and UTech cohorts. For 2021, it is predicted that 70.7% of USHE’s graduates and 72.6% of UTech’s graduates would be retained in Utah’s workforce.


Predicted USHE graduates to be retained in 2021


Predicted UTech graduates to be retained in 2021


Ultimately, the goal of retaining recent graduates is to build a well-educated workforce. By analyzing the characteristics of graduates who choose to remain in Utah, this study can help the state better understand who would most likely become future contributors to Utah’s economy.

While workforce retention of Utah’s postsecondary graduates was the focus of this research, it is only one part of the overall equation in building a well-educated workforce. A full understanding of this equation would require additional research on the migration of educated workers, regardless of whether they received an education in Utah or from out of state.


Learn more about the workforce retention of Utah graduates

Read the full report to learn more about postsecondary graduates who appear in Utah's workforce after award or certificate completion. The study also provides an in-depth look at workforce retention across demographics and other factors, and indicate which had the most significant influence on retention.


Cory Stahle

UX Researcher
(USHE Analysis/Report Author/Web Design/Coding)

Tyler Cain

Research Intern
(UTech Analysis/Report Author/Web Design/Coding)

Britnee Johnston

UX Researcher
(Support on Analysis/Web Design/Coding)