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A little something to stick around

Bill offers $10,000 to keep young grads

Northeastern junior Apollo Payton said his hopes for 'new scenery' would outweigh a $10,000 grant for staying here after graduation.
Northeastern junior Apollo Payton said his hopes for "new scenery" would outweigh a $10,000 grant for staying here after graduation. (Barry Chin/ Globe Staff)

As Massachusetts leaders struggle to find ways to stem an exodus of young people from the state, one legislator thinks he has hit upon a solution -- give them money to stay.

State Senator Brian A. Joyce, a Milton Democrat, this month filed legislation that would provide any graduate of a Bay State college $10,000 for a down payment on a house or condo. Joyce hopes the payment would soften the blow from the high cost of living and might persuade some graduates to stay and raise families here.

The stipend would go to anyone who graduated from a state-accredited post secondary school, vocational-technical program, or apprentice program in the last 10 years. The catch: The recipient would have to agree to stay in Massachusetts for at least five years, or repay the money with interest. Also, the graduate's yearly salary could not exceed 135 percent of the community's median income.

While $10,000 might seem like a lot of money, it may not be enough to entice college-educated twentysomethings filled with wanderlust and dreams that would take them far from Massachusetts. The response from college campuses in Boston was decidedly mixed.

"If I had the opportunity to go somewhere else, I would," said Apollo Payton , 21, who plans to graduate from Northeastern University next year, and wants a career in music production and performance. "I've lived here a long time. I want to see some new scenery."

During 2004, about 65,000 people with college or post graduate degrees left the state, compared with 48,000 who moved into it, according to a report by the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth . In 2004, more people between the ages of 25 and 34 left Massachusetts than arrived, the study by the independent, nonpartisan think tank said. Policymakers fear that the numbers represent an exodus that would strip the state of its educated work force and damage its economic future.

Joyce proposes that the state set aside an initial $25 million for the program, and then see how many graduates sign up and how effective the stipends are.

The program would be unusual, although other states have pushed tax breaks for younger people or for businesses that hire them. Vermont Governor Jim Douglas recently recommended the Legislature offer scholarships to residents who attend college in the state.

It is unclear how Joyce's proposal will fare in the Legislature. Senate President Robert E. Travaglini and House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi both declined to comment, with spokeswomen saying it was because the bill has not been debated by the Joint Committee on Housing and Urban Development. Joyce was the panel's co chairman last session and expects to be reappointed.

Some economists said throwing money at college graduates is not enough to keep young professionals here, and suggested the Legislature should also focus on creating more jobs, providing more affordable housing, and lowering taxes.

"That program by itself would be marginal in its impact," said Andrew Sum , director for the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.

Still, some college students in Boston said the idea is inspired.

"It sounds too good to be true," said Meredith Stanford , a 23-year-old Northeastern senior who plans to become a nurse and hopes to stay in the state after she graduates. "I'd be up for it."

Others, however, said the money would not be enough to keep them here.

"Maybe if it were a bit more," said Krish Mirchandani , 20, a Boston University junior who plans to return to Mumbai, India, after graduation. " Ten-thousand dollars doesn't make much of a dent when the price of property is so high."

Shveta Kumra , another BU junior, said she is glad legislators are acknowledging the state's high cost of living for young people, and called the stipend "a pretty good bribe."

But she said she did not want to be confined to Massachusetts for half a decade just to save money on a house.

"I mean, five years is binding," said Kumra, a 20-year-old marketing major who sees more job opportunities in her native New York. "If I wanted to save money, I would just move back home."

Northeastern nursing student Joyce Mikhael , a 22-year-old senior who is thinking of moving out West once she graduates, said the proposal seems suspicious, even a little desperate.

"You're paying people to stay," she said. "You're paying people not to move away."

Joyce said he is not concerned that people might see the legislation as a desperate act.

"This is for the economic well-being of the state," he said. "It's the reality of our current housing market that homeownership is unattainable for many of our young citizens, and we're losing them to other states, so we need to develop new techniques that will allow first-time homebuyers to attain the American dream in Massachusetts."

Maria Cramer can be reached at