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Virginia was named the top state for higher education.

Student-to-faculty ratio, undergraduate graduation rate and return on investment were some of the contributing factors that helped narrow down all 50 states to a top 10 for providing higher education. For all four years this particular study has been conducted, Virginia has ranked in the top two. On Monday, Virginia was named this year’s top state for higher education, according to the financial technology company SmartAsset. 

One of the statistics that set Virginia apart was the undergraduate graduation rate of 71 percent — the second-highest percentage found within the study. JMU’s six-year graduation rate, as of fall 2017, is 82 percent, which is above the state-average percentage. While the study exclusively focused on states, administrators at JMU feel the study shows the strengths of the university. 

“The rankings are nice, but what’s more important to us is providing the quality for our students,” Mark Warner, senior vice president of student affairs, said. “I think for us, it’s a testament to the people who work here, the faculty and the staff who work so hard to provide a quality education for the students who attend here.” 

Warner attended JMU himself as a student in 1975 and has worked at the university ever since. He takes pride in JMU, especially given all the changes that have taken place since his time as a student.

“When I was here, we were not of the quality that we are now,” Warner said. “We were a very good institution, but every year, it’s gotten better and better and better, and so I think for one thing for graduates, it enhances the credibility of their degrees and for all of our folks going into the workforce. I’m just really, really proud of the strides JMU has made to become nationally known, in terms of quality and educational experiences that are offered.” 

Bill Wyatt, JMU’s director of communications and university spokesperson, felt the recognition spoke for how Virginia schools function within the state budget. While higher-education institutions in Virginia have been receiving less funding, as previously reported by The Breeze, Wyatt feels universities in the state are still able to provide high-quality education. 

“The fact that Virginia is able to put forth these schools with such high return on investment and high graduation rates and high retention rates … without overwhelming support from the general assembly, I think that that speaks volumes to the way that schools are managed,” Wyatt said. “The fact that Virginia is able to do more with less, that makes the ranking a little more amazing, more significant.” 

“The fact that Virginia is able to put forth these schools with such high return on investment and high graduation rates and high retention rates … without overwhelming support from the general assembly, I think that that speaks volumes to the way that schools are managed,” Wyatt said. “The fact that Virginia is able to do more with less, that makes the ranking a little more amazing, more significant.” 

While the SmartAsset study recognized the state of Virginia as a whole, this announcement influences the way JMU administrators such as Wyatt and Warner view JMU. Additionally, the growing reputation of Virginia schools has impacted primary and secondary education in Virginia.  

Scott Kizner, superintendent of Harrisonburg City Public Schools, feels that the recognition of public higher education within the state is promising for local public schools. Kizner, who attended JMU for his master’s degree as an educational specialist (’88), believes having stronger programs for higher education is encouraging for students looking at their options after secondary education.

“We have a belief that we need to prepare every student to have choices,” Kizner said. “Part of their choice is to consider going to a post-secondary education. Knowing our student population, most remain in the city of Harrisonburg. So they know that they can go to a strong public university and even private universities.”

Kizner, who has children of his own, feels that informing others on the possibilities of higher education is important. He attended three different universities in Virginia — JMU, U. Va. and Virginia Tech.  

“We try to remind [students] that education doesn’t stop,” Kizner said. “It’s really preschool to Grade 16, or for some students, it’ll be graduate school. So I think this ongoing, continuous learning benefits not only our students but benefits the community.” 

In addition to reputable higher education helping smaller towns within Virginia, some feel that quality higher education sets the students up for success. Wyatt found that JMU alumni’s return on investment was notable.

“That’s something that we see among our graduates,” Wyatt said. “[Students], whether they go to grad school or get a job … they’re employed pretty soon after they graduate and they go on to do great things and make a good return on their undergraduate investments. Those are things that we do really well, probably better than most schools in Virginia.”

This year is the fourth year in a row that Virginia was listed as the first or second state in this category. While there are several different websites that use a variety of measurements to determine top education programs, Wyatt still recognizes this importance of Virginia’s recognition.

“There are so many higher-education rankings out there; it’s hard to keep track of them all,” Wyatt said. “But certainly when there are ones out there that recognize JMU or the state, that’s certainly something to be proud of.”

 Contact Emma Korynta at breezenews@gmail.com. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.