Alfred Hitchcock, maker of the film classics “Vertigo,” “Psycho” and “Rear Window,” is the director most assigned in college syllabuses. (CBS/Getty Images )

​​States with the worst brain drain — and more!

8 min

Data’s greatest calling may be to describe the planet from angles we otherwise would never consider. This week, we’re celebrating a data’s-eye view of the world by exploring three overlooked and underappreciated data sets. Welcome to the Data Dive.

Winners and losers of brain drain

States invest in public colleges (and give nonprofit status to private ones) to build a better-educated workforce. But what if graduates move away?

The biggest losers of that kind of brain drain are small, rural states — Vermont, West Virginia, New Hampshire — places lacking the urban hubs that offer opportunity to newly minted Bachelors, according to an innovative new data source that uses LinkedIn to estimate how many college graduates stay in-state.

The nation’s capital produces relatively few graduates of its own but draws heavily from the rest of the country, making it one of brain drain’s biggest winners, according to the analysis by economists at the University of North Carolina, the W.E. Upjohn Institute, the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago. The District appears to draw in six times as many graduates as it produces, but data limitations mean that could be an overestimate, the report’s authors say.

While the District is an extreme outlier, it sets a pattern. The other winners are primarily states with cities as large, dynamic and regionally vital as D.C. That would include New York, Washington, California, Illinois, Georgia, Texas, Minnesota and Massachusetts.

Cities such as New York, Atlanta and San Francisco draw graduates from around the region, and — just as importantly — provide the jobs necessary to keep local graduates from looking for greener pastures out of state. Our research shows California, Texas and Florida are best at retaining local graduates, though Florida doesn’t do as well as the others in terms of poaching graduates from elsewhere.

Films most often assigned in college

The single-most-assigned film on college syllabuses silently depicts everyday life in Ukraine and Russia almost a century ago. For more than an hour, it shows people sunbathing, riding in ambulances, brushing their teeth, leaping hurdles, operating a smelter and doing calculations on an abacus.

Dziga Vertov’s “Man With a Movie Camera” claims top honors over more widely celebrated fare, including Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” and Orson Welles’s “Citizen Kane.” Rounding out the top five are another Eastern Bloc fan favorite, Sergei Eisenstein’s “The Battleship Potemkin,” and Fritz Lang’s futuristic sci-fi drama, “Metropolis.” (Vertov, formerly known as Denis Kaufman, is said to have chosen the first name Dziga because it recalled the sound of cranking an old-fashioned movie camera.)

When you consider a director’s entire oeuvre, prolific British suspense peddler Alfred Hitchcock emerges as the most-assigned director thanks to three top-25 films: “Vertigo,” “Psycho” and “Rear Window.” He’s followed by three Americans: Welles (who cracked the top 25 solely on the strength of his ubiquitous 1941 debut), Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg. The only woman in the top 25 is Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl.

The rankings come from Joe Karaganis and his colleagues at Open Syllabus, a research nonprofit that collected more than 15 million class syllabuses from colleges around the world. A little over half were written for classes in the United States.

The analysis of film assignments draws on about 4.5 million syllabuses assigned between 2015 and 2021. They come from all manner of classes, not just film studies, which helps explain the popularity of documentaries and other works with historical value.

As a whole, the list is far Whiter and more male than the overall population. Women directed just 3.5 percent of assigned films released before 1990 (and 13 percent of films released since), though new research from the Women Film Pioneers Project and other sources shows women may have held more positions of power in the early decades of cinema than they have at any point since. Before Hollywood calcified into a male-dominated hierarchy, women served as producers, writers and directors.

“Women were there on the set, ready to do all kinds of jobs,” said Jane M. Gaines, author of “Pink-Slipped: What Happened to Women in the Silent Film Industries?”

Gaines, a film professor at Columbia University and an expert on the history of documentary filmmaking, said the work of cinema heavyweight Sergei Eisenstein overshadowed “Man With a Movie Camera” for the better part of a century. But the latter has been recognized as a cinema classic, she said, culminating in its commemoration as a top-10 film — and the top documentary of all time — in the most recent version of the definitive Sight & Sound rankings.

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“The reason is that you can teach film style with ‘Man With a Movie Camera,’” Gaines said. “It’s got freeze frames, it’s got tracking shots. It’s a compendium of the basics of film cutting — an irresistibly charming homage to cameras and camerawork.” (Story-wise, it’s a vision of “the emerging industrialization of this agricultural peasant society,” she said. “It’s very upbeat about the Soviet revolution!”)

Gaines doesn’t assign the film in her own classes: “It’s mostly about style,” she said, which makes it less resonant than Eisenstein’s crowning achievement, “The Battleship Potemkin.” That movie is technically innovative in its own right, having pioneered key techniques such as montage, but also “is powerful as a narrative of revolutionary overthrow,” she said.

For the record, Eisenstein was not impressed by Vertov’s work, with its use of such showy techniques as split screens, superimposed footage and slow motion. Upon its release, he dismissed “Man With a Movie Camera” as “pointless camera hooliganism.”

Cities with the most bike commuters

Americans are 165 times more likely to drive to work than to pedal, Census Bureau data shows. Just 1 in 40 people bike to work with any regularity. And that number has fallen steadily in the past decade.

Places like Davis, Calif., have long been cycling oases amid America’s daily motorized madness. As many as 1 in 5 workers once commuted by bike in Davis, where a major University of California campus sits in the fertile lowlands west of Sacramento. Census asks about pedaling to work, not class, but almost all the top 10 cities for bicycle commuting are classic college towns, including Corvallis, Ore. (Oregon State University); Boulder, Colo. (University of Colorado); and East Lansing, Mich. (Michigan State).

But as in much of the rest of the country, fewer people bike to work in Davis with each passing year. Soon after Kelsey Fortune moved to Davis from Wisconsin to begin her PhD in energy and transportation economics, bicycle commuting hit its recent peak of almost 22 percent in 2014. It dropped every year thereafter, falling below 15 percent in 2020.

Davis now risks losing its cycling-capital title to Key West, Fla., one of the few top cycling towns not best known for its colleges. Folks on the narrow island bike to work because everything’s close, gas is expensive and parking is scarce. The weather helps too.

“It’s not Duluth,” said Dane Iseman, longtime Key West resident and co-owner of Island Bicycles. “Unless there’s a hurricane whipping through here, unless there’s coconuts flying sideways around the island, you can ride pretty much anytime.”

Fortune is working to reverse Davis’s decline, both as a board member of Bike Davis and as a candidate for city council. But it’s an uphill climb. Aging bike infrastructure, parking, theft and safety concerns all play a role, but, like so many problems in modern-day California, it appears that bike commuting is at least partly a housing issue.

“Davis has built out rather than building up,” Fortune said. “Housing growth has not kept up with the growth of our community.”

Since the peak days of cycling in Davis, the price of a typical single-family home has risen from around $620,000 to more than $1 million, according to Zillow. As long-distance commuters poured into Davis fleeing even higher prices elsewhere, they pushed many locals out of the city core and beyond easy bike-commuting distance.

“There’s about 10,000 people (net) coming into town for work and then leaving every day,” Fortune said. “And unfortunately, these commutes are not by bike.”

If we make a heavyweight division for cities of at least 100,000 people, D.C. comes in second behind Portland, Ore., and just ahead of Madison, Wis., and San Francisco. The District was back in ninth place as recently as 2010, but bike commuting more than doubled from 2010 to 2017.

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