Arkansas, Missouri Take New Approaches to Retaining College Grads

Higher education in Arkansas has a new champion with the crowning of the new Miss Arkansas last Saturday.

Ashton Campbell said she hopes to “break the cycle of disadvantage” associated with childhood poverty, apparent in her home state, in her year-long reign, according to a story from the Associated Press.

“I thought that the best way to try to combat these situations was higher education,” Campbell said. She said obtaining the knowledge and skills needed to prepare people for good jobs will help “break the cycle of disadvantage.”

Currently, Arkansas and the surrounding areas are not lacking for college students.  In Springfield, Missouri, 55.5% of residents are in college or grad school, which is almost twice the national figure of 28.7%.

The problem it seems is that people are not sticking around after college.  Only 26.4% of Springfield residents over the age of 25 hold a bachelor’s degree.

Why are they leaving?  Thomas Gounley for The Springfield News-Leader suggests the reason lies in the subject of salary.  25-year-olds holding a bachelor’s degree make an average of $33,876 per year, while the national average is $49,570.  That’s quite a difference for young college graduates with loans to pay.

One way the city has made an effort to keep young adults around after graduation is through The Chamber of Commerce’s organization for young professionals under 40 called “The Network”.

Britton Jobes heads the ambassador work crew for The Network.

“The specific goal of the ambassador work crew is to reach out to the colleges and universities in town and use that as a way to retain young talent that might otherwise leave — to address the brain drain issue,” Jobes said.

The crew has held speaker panels, networking events, and job fairs, all in the hopes that college students will see the opportunity available to them right there.

Currently, those who stay do so because they are from the area, or they have made professional connections that will help them further a career that they feel is worth staying for.

Says one such twenty-something, Rob Blevins:

“That’s really what has kept me here: a good job, family roots, a safe community to raise a family, and organizations that help the least among us.”