Dec 22, 2015

Top college destinations—major metro, midsize metro or town

University of Iowa in Iowa City (#3 college town)

The American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) recently published its annual College Destinations Index, which analyzes 269 urban areas around the country and “ranks” them as college destinations based on two criteria: the quality of student life and opportunities to prepare for the world of work.

Like other similar rankings, the order is less important than then some of the facts gleaned by the research.  And the research in this case is interesting.

Just as the college experience is different at small liberal arts colleges and large state universities, AIER suggests off-campus life offers different experiences in small and large cities.

According to AIER, “We learned that in the large and midsize metro areas, most of our highest-ranking places—regardless of city size—earned their spot because of their prep-for-work opportunities. Most of our highest-ranking small cities and college towns earned their rankings for their social and cultural offerings that enhance the quality of student life.”

And some big cities, like San Francisco and Boston, come out on top because they score high in both categories. Other midsize metros also serve as “national hubs” for economic niches, such as Nashville’s role in the music industry or San Jose’s proximity to Silicon Valley.  

Drilling a little deeper, AIER found that among midsize metros, San Jose ranked first for prep-for-work, while New Orleans ranked first for quality of student life. Among small metros and college towns, top-ranked locations house major universities, such as Ithaca NY (Cornell, Ithaca College), Corvallis OR (Oregon State), Madison WI (University of Wisconsin, Durham NC (Duke), and Chapel Hill NC (UNC).

To capture the prep-for-work climate, the index looks at possibilities for work in growth industries, economic opportunities for young people, and workforce employment in high-skill/high-productivity occupations.

For quality of student life, the index uses seven measures:  cost of rent; city accessibility; arts and entertainment; culture; bars and restaurants; diversity; cost of living minus rent.

The study obviously reflects one organization’s highly subject view, but it asks questions similar to those that applicants and their families might ask when assessing college fit. 

Top 10 major metro rankings:

1. San Francisco    
2. Boston                  
3. Seattle  
4. Denver
5. Houston              
6. Minneapolis
7. Washington, DC
8. Dallas
9. San Diego
10. New York City

Top 10 midsize metro rankings:

1. San JosĂ©, CA   
2. Austin, TX                        
3. Pittsburgh, PA   
4. Raleigh, NC                          
5. Salt Lake City, UT
6. Portland, OR
7. Nashville, TN
8. Columbus, OH
9. Grand Rapids, MI
10. Milwaukee, WI

Top 10 college towns:

1. Ames, IA                            
2. Ithaca, NY                             
3. Iowa City, IA                   
4. Charlottesville, VA             
5. Columbia, MO
6. Santa Fe, NM
7. Corvallis, OR
8. Missoula, MT
9. Fargo, ND
10. Lafayette, IN

For more information on the College Destinations Index, visit the AIER website.

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