When it comes to selecting a college or university, an institution's surrounding town or city can influence a student's decision almost as much as the school itself—which is why the personal finance and credit report company WalletHub annually releases a list of the best college and university towns in the country.
To compile the list, WalletHub's analysts look at 415 cities of various sizes across the country and examine them according to three main categories:
- Academic and economic opportunities (worth 50 points in the total score count);
- WalletFitness—i.e. the cost of living (worth 25 points in the total score count); and
- Social environment (also worth 25 points in the total score count).
To determine how the city ranks in each category, WalletHub takes 26 metrics into account on a weighted scale, with 100 representing the best conditions and zero representing the worst.
WalletHub also sorts the college cities into three size categories:
- Large cities: more than 300,000 people;
- Midsized cities: 125,000 to 300,000 people; and
- Small cities: Less than 125,000 people.
Also see: the 10 most educated U.S. cities
In 2016, WalletHub ranked the following 10 cities as the best college towns in the nation:
- Oxford, Ohio:, 71.11;
- East Lansing, Mich., 66.21;
- West Lafayette, Ind., 65.25;
- Athens, Ohio, 65.01;
- Amherst Center, Mass., 63.88;
- Clemson, S.C., 63.87;
- Ann Arbor, Mich., 63.58;
- Newark, Del., 62.98;
- Charlottesville, Va., 62.86; and
- College Station, Texas, 62.83.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the lowest-ranked college towns for 2016 were:
- Brookline, Mass., 26.6;
- Kendall, Fla., 26.84;
- East Los Angeles, Calif., 26.85;
- Daly City, Calif., 26.91;
- Yonkers, N.Y., 27.13;
- Richmond, Calif., 27.2;
- Arlington, Va., 27.53;
- Compton, Calif., 27.55;
- Paterson, N.J., 28.04; and
- Germantown, Md., 28.15.
Don't worry, rankings aren't everything
In addition to compiling the rankings list, WalletHub spoke to a number of experts about the importance of an institution's surrounding environment and how schools and local authorities can work together to improve their area's appeal.
"Local authorities, businesses, and higher education institutions should work together to strengthen civic indicators from educational outcomes, reduced crime rates, and more accessible public transportation," said Michael Harris, an associate professor of higher education and the director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Southern Methodist University. "Universities and city leaders need to work in partnership to ensure safe, affordable, and accessible housing options are available," Harris added.
Several of the experts also said community service events can improve a college town's appeal. "These outreach efforts often help build positive town-gown relationships," said Amanda Rutherford, an assistant professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University.
Other improvements experts suggested include:
- Supporting local parks;
- Investing in local arts programs;
- Supporting safety entities like police and fire departments; and
- Attracting local businesses that can hire students and graduates.
(Bernardo, WalletHub, 12/13; Strauss, Forbes, 12/13).
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