College News

UW-Madison grads follow trend of ‘brain drain’ in Wisconsin

As Wisconsin attempts to attract millenials, some UW-Madison graduates are making plans to leave the state.

Image By: Jade Sheng

When Genevieve Pfister and Samuel Fritz, who are both graduating this spring, became friends in their electrical engineering class last year, they were unsure where they would end up after graduation. Now, Fritz is preparing to pursue a job as paralegal in Milwaukee and Pfister is relocating to Texas to work at a top engineering company.

Pfister is one of the nearly 75 percent of out-of-state UW-Madison graduates who leave the state after graduation, according to data compiled by the UW System. They are the reason Walker rolled out a $6.8 million investment plan last week that emphasizes in-state retention and recruitment efforts, in an effort to boost state employment.

“I loved my college experience in Madison, but also wanted to have the experience of going somewhere new, experiencing the city as I move into that new phase of my life,” Pfister said.

An internship with Texas Instruments became her gateway for future jobs within their company, and she will now begin a full-time role at their Dallas headquarters, starting after graduation. 

“It was a pretty easy decision because I liked working there,” Pfister said. “I love the city of Madison, but I knew that I wanted to get out and see what else was out there."

Pfister said she still felt welcomed and valued by the company's inclusive culture. Its reputation as a leading engineering firm in the field Pfister was interested in was another bonus. 

“In the College of Engineering, there’s a drive to work for what are seen as the best companies," she said. "There are some really excellent companies in Wisconsin, but just economy-wise, there’s a very booming tech industry in the southwest.”

While Pfister wants to explore opportunities outside of the state for now, she said Wisconsin remains an option for the future. For her classmates, it’s already a reality.

Fritz is an electrical engineering major, but hopes to pursue a law degree in a few years. Before he heads to law school, Fritz will work as a paralegal for Foley & Lardner, a Milwaukee law firm.

“I was looking to do something with my degree outside of engineering,” he said. “And I was ready to see something outside of Madison.”

During his job search, he interviewed at several local law firms, as well as several firms out of state. He said he learned about most of those opportunities by attending UW-Madison career fairs.

One of Walker’s goals is to continue collaboration with state universities, in order to recruit graduates like Fritz for jobs within the state of Wisconsin. According to the model outlined in the recent funding bill, those strategies include cost effective hiring and outreach initiatives like career fairs.

By staying in Wisconsin, Fritz is joining the 29 percent of Wisconsin adults who have a bachelor’s degree or higher. This number is three-and-a-half percent below the national average, and is especially low for a state heralding a strong public university system.

Fritz is a Madison native, but has worked out of state before. Last summer he interned at a small research firm in Minneapolis — and he said Wisconsin wasn’t necessarily the first place he thought he’d end up after college.

“Quite honestly, I would rather work in the Twin Cities,” Fritz said. “I’ve been to Milwaukee but I’ve never been that impressed by the downtown as compared to the cuteness of Saint Paul and the things to do in Minneapolis.”

He cites bikeability, cost of living and familiarity as the chief reasons he sees himself in the Twin Cities more than he does Milwaukee. But for now, he said is not looking that far into the future and that mostly, he is focused on getting into a law school on the east coast, “maybe D.C..”

The biggest reason Fritz said he is not returning to Minneapolis was because his best job offers came from Milwaukee.

“I was less focused on the place and more on the job,” Fritz said. “And the best, non-engineering job for me was in Milwaukee.”

But even if Fritz does leave, he said he will always feel like he can return to Madison, and that the Midwest holds a special place for him.

“I think the Midwest is pretty rad,” he said. “The east coast and the west coast get all the hype, but I really like the Aldo Leopold-ness of here. It’s a wholesome, good place to live.”

Update: April 26, 6:30 p.m. This story incorrectly attributed a statistic reflecting that nine out of 10 out-of-state UW-Madison graduates leave the state after graduation to the Wisconsin State Economic Development Association. That data was actually collected by the UW-System's Accountability Report.

Update: April 27, 9:20 a.m An earlier version of this story said that Pfister received job offers from companies in Georgia and Minnesota.  One of those opportunities was an internship, and she rescinded both applications.

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