Our Urban Challenge: Middle of Nowhere

Springfieldians have great access to higher education. Take your pick: OTC, MSU, Drury, Evangel.

Springfield is large enough, however, not to have the feel of college town similar to Columbia, Missouri. There’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s something terribly wrong with our ranking in College Destination Index published by the American Institute of Economic Research. Springfield doesn’t rate; it’s nowhere to be found.

Here’s what AIER says about its rankings:

The College Destinations Index (CDI) describes the broader learning environments of the top 75 cities and towns for students and pulls them together here in an easy-to-understand map and table.

It isn’t just about professors and classes. Conversations in coffee houses, performances in concert halls, and opportunities for corporate internships also contribute to education. That’s why the American Institute for Economic Research assesses a location’s broader learning environment in our College Destinations Index.

The index subdivides more than 360 metropolitan statistical areas into four tiers based on population size. We then rank the top scoring destinations in each tier according to 12 measures that range from student concentration to entrepreneurial opportunities.

Our evaluation of destinations is further organized into three categories—Academic Environment, Quality of Life, and Professional Opportunities. Each addresses the larger learning environment according to objective criteria. Research Capacity, for example, one of our measures of Academic Environment, is based on research-and-development expenditures. Arts and Leisure, in our Quality of Life section, measures the number of cultural and entertainment locations. Entrepreneurial Activity, in the Professional Opportunities section, tracks the net annual increase of business establishments.

The CDI isn’t just for students and their parents. College presidents, admission offices, and alumni can use it to promote their schools, civic planners to tout their regions, and CEOs to plan their next move. What’s more, the amenities that create great college communities also can make these destinations fine places to visit or retire.

So having a goodly number of fine institutions is not enough. To make this list a community also has to have “quality of life” and “professional opportunities.”


Is it important to show up in the top 75? Before assuming that it’s OK to rank lower, I’d urge you to take a look the AIER list and map — available as a .pdf; ordering the download is free. Here’s a peek:

All those blobs of color you see there represent places that attract the creative class that Richard Florida has told us is an indicator of economic and cultural vibrancy. Where would you place the 76th blob of color?

I’d certainly like to put it right there in the southwest corner of Missouri. How do we make that happen?  Florida offers one answer: get dense.

Remember those kids at the Mudhouse?:

I swear I’m not making this up. The following is a snippet of conversation I heard at the Mudshouse. The interlocutors were high school kids:

Kid 1: “There’s just too much sprawl here.”

Kid 2: “Yeah, not enough density.”

Kid 3: “It doesn’t matter. We’re not going to live here anyway.”

How do we make our urban core more dense and, thus, have a chance at making Springfield the kind of place where these kids want to live?

Yet it seems that what we do here is keep pushing outward. More subdivisions. More roads. More congestion.

Where are the visionary people who will develop our urban core brownfields and, perhaps, begin putting us on that map.

Our Urban Challenge Series:

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Comments 7

  1. Keith R. wrote:

    It could be that we are not on the list due to our tornados or our sometimes harsh winters… Thankfully, we don’t have killer bees. Yet…

    Posted 09 Sep 2010 at 10:56 am
  2. Steve A wrote:

    Hmm, so Springfield ranks below Fargo, ND? Don’t feel bad, Wichita Falls, another MSU home, didn’t make the list, either.

    OTOH, Seattle and Los Angeles, where my own two schools are located, were both rightly top ten in their category. Good list! 😉

    Seriously, these things really shouldn’t be taken seriously.

    Posted 09 Sep 2010 at 6:50 pm
  3. Andy Cline wrote:

    Steve… I wouldn’t take it too seriously except that this map so perfectly matches other similar maps, re: Florida’s research.

    Posted 09 Sep 2010 at 8:42 pm
  4. Michael wrote:

    I think the headline sums things up nicely. The task is how do you convince people to come to “The Middle Of Nowhere.”

    I’ve never been to the Springfield (or the midwest for that matter) (does Springfield consider its self more southern?), but after running across some really pretty pictures on Flickr, the Music of Cindy Woolf Big Smith and everyone else at May Apple Records, Askinosie Chocolate, and what looks to be good cycling, I’ve become rather interested in Springfield. I’d also note that you have good access to indie film.

    Thanks to the internet you can, thankfully, find out all of the above w/o the need to consult with gate keepers AIER.

    You should look to what Springfield has that places like LA and Seattle don’t, like affordable housing or in Seattle’s case sunshine.

    I’m going to be checking out Springfield, and a few other places next spring, and maybe moving down your way.

    Posted 10 Sep 2010 at 9:44 am
  5. robert wrote:

    My thoughts:

    The city of Springfield is essentially not much more than streets, parking lots and cars. You do see buildings sprinkled here and there and even more rarely see people but mostly you see automobiles. Of course, thats true of nearly every American City including Columbia.

    The ozarks, however, are beautiful. I saw it flying into Springfield from Chicago the other day. It’s too bad we are covering it up with poorly planned development as quickly as we can.

    Posted 10 Sep 2010 at 9:57 am
  6. JAT in Seattle wrote:

    Sorry I lumped Columbia and Springfield together in my comment to the previous post – I didn’t really put any research into it…

    We had a week of sunshine this summer; I didn’t think much of it.

    Posted 10 Sep 2010 at 10:09 am
  7. Michael wrote:

    This summer was dreadful. I’m seriously ready to move somewhere where the sun actually shines.

    Posted 10 Sep 2010 at 5:12 pm