A new college graduate would find in Waco a vibrant downtown, almost 400 restaurants and a diverse list of manufacturing employers — factors that contribute to making it the fourth-best destination for those receiving their degrees among 204 midsize cities nationally.

That’s according to onlinedegrees.com, which placed Waco only behind Fayetteville, Arkansas; Lexington, Kentucky; and Amarillo on its list of communities with the best combination of lifestyle and opportunity.

Onlinedegrees.com counted midsize cities as those with a population between 150,000 and 750,000. It applied factors including median monthly rents, percentage of housing units occupied by renters, percentage of population between 20 and 34, median earnings of bachelor’s degree holders, concentration of arts and entertainment establishments, state job growth projections, employment status, and cost of living, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau, according to a press release.

“Waco is new on our list of 15 best midsize cities for new grads,” according to the post on onlinedegrees.com, which provides information about online educational options, including sources of financial aid, grants and loans.

CampusTown Waco coordinator Evan Hebert said he is “fully on board with the survey.”

CampusTown is a Prosper Waco initiative that aims to connect college students with opportunities in Waco to attract them to the city. Hebert, 23, a Baylor University graduate, said he grew up in the Waco area and knows there was a time when the city didn’t offer much to do or much to keep young professionals around.

New momentum

But new momentum downtown and new professional opportunities have changed that, he said. His typical sales pitch is that new graduates may not make as much money in Waco as in Dallas, Houston or Austin, but they can have a bigger impact on the community here, Hebert said. And the cost of living is much more manageable.

In its summary of Waco’s assets, onlinedegrees.com mentions the city is located “in the center of Texas, along the Dallas-Austin corridor” and that its industry base includes options that range from aerospace and defense to health care, supply chain management, professional and financial services, and advanced manufacturing. These “translate into a variety of opportunities for those at the start of their career,” the summary states.

The report had high praise for what it called Waco’s “numerous performance arts venues,” taking sixth-place in that metric among 204 communities. “For those interested in furthering their education, Baylor University offers more than 100 graduate-level programs,” it added.

A survey result like the one from onlinedegrees.com is good news, said Kris Collins, vice president for economic development at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber officials believe they and other groups are making progress in attracting recent graduates and persuading them to stay in Waco, and she appreciates the recognition, Collins said.

She said a recent intern fair attracted about 300 college students and 23 Waco employers hoping to recruit them.

Other Texas cities

Besides Waco and Amarillo, other midsize Texas cities landing on the top-15 list prepared by California-based onlinedegrees.com were Corpus Christi and Lubbock, making Texas the state with the most representation.

Colorado placed two cities on the list, Boulder and Colorado Springs, as did Arkansas, with Fayetteville topping the poll and Little Rock tying Wichita, Kansas, for the 13th position.

Perhaps not unexpectedly, Waco received a plug for serving as home to Magnolia Market at the Silos in the calculations.

Addressing specifics, the survey showed that 23 percent of the Waco metropolitan area’s population is between the ages 20 to 34; median annual earnings for those with a bachelor’s degree are $46,750; the median monthly rental rate is $589; and projected statewide job growth between 2014 and 2024 stands at 17.7 percent, second-highest among states in the survey.

Monthly rental rate

That median monthly rental rate was second lowest on the 15-city list, while median annual earnings ranked in the middle of the pack behind Santa Maria, California, with $53,659; Madison, Wisconsin, with $49,129; Corpus Christi with $48,088; Fayetteville, Arkansas, with $50,985; and Boulder, Colorado, $48,722.

Median income fell below that of Waco in several communities, including Lexington, Kentucky, with $45,530; Lincoln, Nebraska, with $42,499; Fargo, North Dakota, with $42,001; Lubbock with $44,357; and Durham, North Carolina, with $45,495.

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