Fleeing Northeast Arkansas

Delta Digital News Service

Cameron Bandy | Contributor

JONESBORO, Ark.- College graduating seniors are fleeing Northeast Arkansas in droves with the lack of job opportunities, engagement and quality of life. Students are headed to larger cities like Fayetteville, St. Louis, Houston, Dallas and Nashville to find jobs.

Quality of Life

   Dylan Tedder, assistant director for employer relations, hints that quality of life hinders Northeast Arkansas to keep students here. Career services work with students, employers and alumni to serve as a bridge for employers to connect with students and for students to connect with employers or graduate schools if they choose.

   College seniors are leaving Northeast Arkansas for larger cities for better opportunities and quality of life.

   Tedder said, “I think a lot of it has to do with quality of life. I think that there could be people looking at all the things they have going on in Northwest Arkansas or in Nashville and it is viewed as a cool place and naturally, it is easier, while the jobs may be comparable in a lot of cases they are, or they may even be better here, but the quality-of-life piece makes the difference.”

   There are some industries that aren’t present in northeast Arkansas that Arkansas State have majors for but there isn’t as much opportunity in Jonesboro compared to a bigger market like Nashville.

   Tedder said, “I think that there are opportunities in every field here in some compacity, but I do think that when the level of opportunity obviously there’s going to be a difference between a market like Nashville or St. Louis compared to any city in Arkansas with the exception of Little Rock.”

   A-State, as a regional institution, should play a role to connect students to opportunities, but employers should put the effort into the community and being on campus to engage with students. Businesses should engage with potential hires to make the brand recognizable when students start filling out applications. Having a recognizable brand for a business can only help to keep talent in Northeast Arkansas.

   The city government should also prioritize keeping younger generations here to keep Jonesboro and this region thriving through quality-of-life initiatives.

   Tedder said, “I think it comes back to quality-of-life initiatives and until we get to a point where we, as community, start to prioritize that, then it’s going to be a struggle. It is pretty obvious what Fayetteville has done with the biking green line just as an example and they have invested money in that. Until we can make a commitment like that as a community, then that is where the difference is. I don’t think there’s a gap in jobs as much as a gap in the willingness and the ability to invest in quality of life.”

Financial Aid

   Sharon James, associate professor of management, claims financial aid is the reason for losing college graduates especially at the start of their college career.

   James said, “I remember when they hired a new enrollment management person, that person has since left, but I don’t think the philosophy has changed. They seem to think they can get good students without giving so much financial aid.

   James continued, “When I was department chair of managing and marketing, I was talking to prospective students who had offers from the University of Arkansas and they were not top students and they had decent financial aid packages way before we offered them anything. They told me they hadn’t heard from our financial aid people, and I think that’s the problem.”

   James’ home state of South Carolina proactively targets students to keep them in the state. She praised the work Admissions is doing at A-State and in the Spring of 2021, she gave an exceptional high school junior a tour of the college of business. Admissions were in touch with him, but Financial Aid wasn’t. A-State has untapped potential and a competitive advantage for first-generation students and have a mechanism for anyone wanting to work hard.

   James said, “We are not exploiting that advantage fully, and it’s not that people are trying to, but maybe it’s too fragmented in terms of how we approach. In 2014, 2015, 2016, I thought we were doing that pretty well, but we have fallen off a cliff. I don’t know as conjecture but perhaps because we’ve sliced up the responsibility too much that we don’t have an efficient communication across lines.”

   James is sensitive to people not wanting to leave home to gain experience because it is restraining.

   Long Gone

   Lexi Sitton, from Melbourne and a recent graduate at A-State, now lives in Dallas, working as a legal assistant at The Clinesmith Firm. Sitton always wanted to live in a bigger city. Dallas had more to offer than northeast Arkansas like opportunities and open-mindedness.

   Sitton said, “I think a good way to encourage college grads to stay there is by offering them more opportunities to grow instead of just being stagnant and only being able to work to a certain point.”

   Sitton would consider moving back to Arkansas but not anytime soon.