CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Steve Knoblock celebrated his 30th birthday by starting his first day of work at his new job.
The 2009 West Virginia University graduate didn't sit at a tidy desk topped with piles of papers like he expected he would be doing with his master's degree in professional accountancy.
Instead, he stood behind a cash register and scanned customers' items at a Walmart in Morgantown.
The national store has been the No. 1 employer in West Virginia for 15 years, but it's not the workplace for someone with two college degrees, Knoblock said.
The Bridgeport native said he wants to work in his home state, but he hasn't had any luck at the numerous in-state accounting firms where he has applied in the past few years.
While he has committed to the Mountain State since graduation -- and has taken minimum-wage jobs in the meantime to stay here -- many of his peers have left to find work elsewhere, he said.
"The problem I see is it's not that graduates are looking for excuses to leave, it's because they can't find a reason to stay," Knoblock said. "When you hit a certain milestone birthday like 30 and all of a sudden the big thing to commemorate your day is 'I just got a job working the cash register at Walmart making minimum wage,' it gives a little pause."
Most people who live in West Virginia want to work here after they graduate, said Eric Bowen, research assistant for the West Virginia University Bureau of Business and Economic Research.
But they leave the state because the jobs they are looking for aren't always here, he said.
Of the 115,730 students who graduated from a public university in West Virginia in the past 10 years, nearly 52 percent of them weren't working in the state in 2011, according to a study published by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and the BBER.
The report, "From Higher Education to Work in West Virginia 2011," provides an analysis of the work participation and wages for graduates of the state's public institutions of higher education during the past 10 years.
Bowen, author of the report, said some jobs aren't as obtainable in the state as others, such as jobs in engineering.
George Hammond, a former WVU economist who now serves the same position at the University of Arizona, said the state has a difficult time attaining science and technology graduates because those high-tech jobs aren't available here.
More than half of all graduates of the state's public universities in the last 10 years were employed in just two industries, according to the study.
Of those 55,675 graduates who worked in the state, more than 27 percent were employed in health care and 23 percent worked in education.
Officials said the state's aging population correlates with the increase in health-care jobs.
"You have certain career paths that aren't necessarily in West Virginia and they will be more likely to move out of the state," Bowen said. "There are a certain percentage of people who get educated in the state and move out and that has to do with the availability of jobs in certain types of careers."
More than 70 percent of West Virginia University graduates who had been out of school for at least five years had left the state to work, the highest rate of any top public university in the country, according to the most recent study by Payscale.com.
Officials from the HEPC said 52 percent of WVU's student body is out-of-state students anyway so it is understood a majority would leave.
The state does have unique challenges based on the history of its workforce, officials said.
West Virginia has a workforce that has been based on jobs that didn't require a college education, like steel and mining, for example, said Paul Hill, chancellor of the state HEPC.
Jobs that were once considered "blue collar" now require a college education and that has been a challenge for the state, he said.