College graduates continued to relocate to many fast-growing cities in the Sunbelt during the recession, a possible sign of the region’s economic appeal, according to Census data released Tuesday.

Among the top 10 metropolitan areas with the fastest average net growth in the number of arrivals with college degrees between 2007 and 2009, seven were in the south and southwest, including Austin, Texas, and Raleigh, N.C., according to an analysis of Census data by William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

The new data mirror the trend in recent years of the South outpacing other parts of the nation in both migration and population growth.

Some shifts in the migration of individuals with bachelor’s degrees are difficult to explain. The growth could reflect college-educated workers stuck in a particular area, Mr. Frey said, rather than lured elsewhere by better job prospects. The Census data measure the net number of migrants to and from metro areas. That means that in some cases growth reflects that fewer people are leaving than in the past—which could occur if workers are stuck in underwater mortgages or unable to relocate for other reasons.

Meanwhile, a city with a major university, such as Austin, Texas, is likely to have lured workers as well as retained more graduates who couldn’t find work elsewhere.

While the Sunbelt continues to outpace the nation in overall and percentage gains in college graduates, many other places saw the migration rate plunge as the real-estate bust led to big job losses. Between the two periods, for instance, Las Vegas; Tucson, Ariz.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Phoenix all saw their migration rates tumble.

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