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Best College Towns and Best College Cities

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If you were given the opportunity to live absolutely anywhere in the United States, do you know where you’d live? It’s not a trick question, but it’s a good issue to think about when you start researching colleges. Finding the right college for you and your needs can be a daunting process, and a university’s location plays a big part in the decision for many students.

Last week non-profit organization American Institute for Economic Research released its annual College Destinations Index, also known as the CDI. The CDI is defined as a “quantitative ranking of the 75 best towns and cities to live in if you’re a college student.”

Ranking the Best College Towns in the USA, 2010-11

The CDI ranks cities according to 12 criteria:

  • Student Concentration
  • Student Diversity
  • Research Capacity
  • Degree Attainment
  • Cost of Living
  • Arts and Leisure
  • City Accessibility
  • Creative Class
  • Earning Potential
  • Entrepreneurial Activity
  • Brain Gain/Drain
  • Unemployment rate

Keming Liang, the lead researcher on the project, feels that deciding which school you want to attend should involve more than the school itself and what it has to offer. He also says, “Where to attend college is just as important, because like the colleges themselves, the towns and cities in which they are located vary widely in the opportunities they offer students and recent graduates.”

USA Today quoted Kerry Lynch, senior fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research, on September 8, 2010. According to Lynch, "Most students and their parents think about location in a vague way. They have a general impression of locales, but they don’t have much solid information, and it’s hard to compare one to another. And that’s what we’re trying to do — so they can get a picture of that.”

The CDI examines 222 metropolitan areas with student populations of 15,000 or more to find the 75 best towns and cities for college students to live in, and here are the winners in a few categories.

Best College Towns: 2010-11 Winners

  • Best Major Metro Area (Population over 2.5 million) San Francisco
  • Best Midsize Metro Area (Population 1 million to 2.5 million) San Jose
  • Best Small City (Population 250,000 to 1 million) Boulder, CO
  • Best College Town (Population under 250,000) Ithaca, NY

As with all ranking systems, some people celebrate the results while others find fault with them. Daniel de Vise, author of the Washington Post’s College Inc. higher education page, offered his opinion of the 2010-11 CDI in a September 8, 2010 column. deVise feels that San Francisco should not rank above cities such as Boston, and also offered several other complaints.

Charles Murray, the American Institute for Economic Research president, feels that “The amenities that create great college communities also make these destinations great places to visit, live, retire or locate a business.” He stands behind the group’s findings.

The entire 2010-11 CDI is available online for free.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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