The Very Best College Towns

 

Boulder, Colorado

SMALL METROS, BIG RESULTS

Nestled below the Rocky Mountains, Boulder, Colorado is best known for sunshine and bicycling. And it ranks #1 among college communities with 250,000 to 1 million residents. So what makes Boulder different? For starters, it has the highest percentage of college-educated residents among all 75 communities ranked by AIER (57.9%).It also enjoys the best scores for transportation, arts and leisure, innovation, and entrepreneurial activity. In fact, Boulder was ranked #1 in 2013 by Entrepreneur magazine for high-tech startups. Talk about a place to be!

Looking for a community that invests heavily in research and development? Look no further than Durham, North Carolina, where $30,211 per student goes back to R&D. That makes sense, as Durham – home of Duke University – is just 15 minutes from the famed Research Triangle Park. Ann Arbor (University of Michigan) and Madison (University of Wisconsin) also made impressive R&D investments at $19,569 and $17,325 per student respectively (which likely ties to their high percentages of innovation producers in their communities).

Looking for a study in contrasts? Try Huntsville, Alabama, known as “Rocket City” for its deep engineering roots with NASA and the Department of Defense. These days, the city is becoming a startup hub, with 15.8% of the populace categorized as “innovation producers” (just 0.3% behind Boulder). For students, the rent is reasonable at a $689 a month, the third-lowest on AIER’s index. However, Huntsville ranks among the bottom performers for transportation (an index low 1.3%), international students (2.1%), and brain drain (second highest to Fairbanks, Alaska overall).

Among small metros, the top performers include Gainesville, Florida (Student concentration), Lansing, Michigan (International students), Lincoln, Nebraska (Lowest unemployment rate), and Bridgeport, Connecticut (Median earnings). Conversely, Honolulu reported the highest rents and worst arts and leisure score. Bridgeport also invested the least in R&D per student (just $158). In that regard, Provo spent only a little more than Bridgeport ($463), which likely affected its low median earnings ($21,369). Eugene, Oregon posted the lowest entrepreneur score in this segment, while Syracuse, New York delivered the highest unemployment rate (7.6%).

Rank Location Student Concentration Cost of Housing Arts and Leisure College Educated
 1  Boulder, CO  150.1  $1,178  72.8  57.9%
 2  Durham,  NC  120.7  $843  40.4  44.7%
 3  Ann Arbor,  MI  194.4  $952  47.7  49.7%
 4  Madison, WI  115.6  $898  54.5  42.6%
 5  Gainesville,  FL  228.1  $869  32.4  38.6%
 6  Fort Collins,  CO  134.7  $896  53.0  44.7%
 7  Lincoln, NE  122.1  $700  42.0  35.9%
 8  Bridgeport, CT  66.9  $1,161  59.0  46.3%
 9  Trenton, NJ  94.4  $1,225  40.6  38.2%
 10  Huntsville, AL  82.3  $689  28.9  36.9%
 11  Albany, NY  94.1  $929  44.4  34.1%
 12  Lansing, MI  156.1  $762  26.7  32.2%
 13  Anchorage, AK  75.6  $1,146  56.0  30.9%
 14  Omaha, NE  79.2  $790  41.8  33.7%
 15  Provo, UT  132.7  $729  29.0  35.8%

Source: American Institute of Economic Research (AIER)