Suffolk County officials are exploring a plan that would encourage young residents to live on university campuses -- and stay on Long Island -- after they finish school.

The initiative would create multifamily units in Planned Young Adult Communities, or PYACs, on available land at local colleges.

Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), a supporter of the plan, said the housing -- similar to planned retirement communities for seniors -- may stem the loss of talented young people who can't afford to live where they were raised.

"We need to figure out what we can do for our young adults. Even if they have a job, they have limited financial ability [and] they probably have college debt," Anker said. "They're in a bind and we're losing them."

The county legislature last month unanimously authorized a feasibility study by the county Department of Economic Development and Planning. The agency is expected to deliver a report by March 19.

The idea has received support from local college presidents concerned that students leave Long Island almost as soon as they receive their college degrees because they can't find affordable housing.

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"For more than a decade, Long Island has been losing college graduates and young professionals," Suffolk County Community College president Shaun McKay said in a statement.

Stony Brook University president Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. said he would cooperate with the study.

In an interview, County Executive Steve Bellone said a shortage of homes for young people is "one of the major failures" of the region because it stifles economic development.

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"Our goal is to build an innovation economy in Suffolk County and across Long Island. The key to that is being able to retain and attract companies that can thrive here," Bellone said. "One business after another that I speak to says the same thing: Even when offering decent salaries . . . it's very difficult to attract talent because the cost of living is so high. The affordable housing isn't available."

Business leaders have expressed concern that the Island is losing many of its brightest young people because housing costs are among the highest in the nation.

"We educate people here and then they leave," said Mitchell Pally, chief executive of the Long Island Builders Institute, which supports Anker's plan. "You want people with higher education to stay here and add to a vibrant community and a vibrant economy."

Education figures

 

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About 30 percent of U.S. adults 25 and older had at least a bachelor's degree in 2011, the highest level in the six decades that the statistic has been tracked, the Census Bureau reported last year.

Long Island's educational attainment level is higher, with 36 percent of residents 25 and older having a bachelor's degree or more, according to the 2008-10 American Community Survey.

In Nassau County, 41 percent had at least a bachelor's degree, compared with 32 percent for Suffolk and 32.5 percent for New York State.

COLLEGE GRADS

People 25 and older with at least a bachelor's degree

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United States -- 30 percent

Long Island -- 36 percent

-- Olivia Winslow and Laura Mann