Harrisonburg education

According to College Factual, college graduates who stay in Harrisonburg following graduation contribute to the local economy.

Harrisonburg has been nationally recognized as a top location for great education alongside JMU, which placed sixth out of Virginia universities with strong academic programs in a new report by College Factual. This isn’t the first time the Harrisonburg-Rockingham area and JMU have been ranked, as JMU has collected 212 college badges with College Factual. This adds to the nationwide credibility of JMU, and could lead to more growth in the surrounding communities. 

The categorization is an addition to past rankings for the area and JMU, which include placing seventh in best undergraduate teaching and second in best innovative schools. College Factual, a verified company that ranks colleges and towns for students, grades locations on their degree programs and their commitment to overall quality. This new ranking acknowledges Harrisonburg’s environment, which promotes quality education and living. 

“I think this is a great testament to some of the wonderful opportunities we have here in Harrisonburg, and we’re glad to share that news with a wide audience,” Brian Shull, the economic development director of Harrisonburg, said. “I think some of it is the great academic programs at JMU, but also, some of what the city has to offer like the outdoor recreational opportunities, the vibrant downtown area and some of the great cultural and sports opportunities that are available.”

Shull said students and families are drawn to the area because of mountain biking, hiking, fishing and camping opportunities. He has recently seen a spike in students from the area staying in Harrisonburg after graduation to continue their careers and lives. The opening of job opportunities in the community, based partly off the strong degree programs within JMU and the surrounding universities, has allowed more room for the population to grow with talent from incoming entrepreneurs, Shull said. 

“It’s a beautiful setting for students,” Bill Wyatt, the director of communications and spokesman for JMU, said. “We know that when students apply to the university — if we can get them to visit — we know that there’s a much greater chance of them actually becoming students here. Our campus is beautiful, it’s a friendly community, it’s got that almost family feeling, and I think a lot of students are attracted to that.”

College Factual noted in its report that many of the college graduates who stay in Harrisonburg after graduation have a desire to continue contributing to the local economy. Chiedo John, a JMU alumnus from the class of 2013, has prospered from his education at JMU and launched his own company in Harrisonburg. Originally from northern Virginia, John saw no need to travel back home when he graduated and stayed here because he felt like he was in the right spot for real success. 

John operates a web development company, Chiedo Labs, where companies hire his team to help build apps and websites. He said there’s never been a time when he didn’t feel support from the community, pushing him to work for greatness within his company. About ¾ of his staff of 16 are JMU alumni who chose to further their careers in the area.

“In my experience with education at JMU, my computer science experience was incredible,” John said. “I think the professors prepared me for the real world, and they gave me their time and the skill set. I got my [money’s] worth on my education, it was great.”

The area is accessible for young entrepreneurs to start their work due to the low cost of living and welcoming atmosphere of the community, John said. The short distance to different areas in the community allows flexibility in who they can work with by creating openings for many professional relationships. 

Wyatt credits the community’s physical and academic growth throughout JMU and Harrisonburg to the priority of working toward meeting the needs of the commonwealth and creating a better community. The city and universities in the area are devoted to ensuring a great quality of life and high-quality education to the community members, Shull said.  

“An important part of who JMU is, is our community,” Wyatt said. “The Harrisonburg-Rockingham county plays a big role in the education of students at JMU through partnerships throughout the community. The location, the mountains, the Shenandoah River  — all of that stuff is vibrancy of our campus.”

Contact Bridget Murphy at murph2br@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.