ePodunk study targets cultural and economic centers

University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
Your definition of a great college town probably depends on whether you're a student, faculty member, townie, retiree or tourist.

As more Americans look to college towns as places to live, we thought it was time to assess these communities in a new light.

In our view, great college towns have a spark that comes not only from young blood, but from jazz clubs, literary events, book stores and cafes. They are intellectual, cultural and economic hubs, balancing tradition with new business growth. Often, they mix urban amenities and small-town charm.

The ePodunk College Town Index does not rank the colleges themselves, but the communities in which they're based. Our study is not based on a student survey, nor is it a rating of bars and night life.

The index deliberately ruled out the stereotypical "sleepy campus town." We wanted to find college towns with vibrant arts scenes, commitment to intellectual growth and strong economies. These are places where alumni want to live and where employers want to locate.

So we imposed some value judgments at the outset. We looked at communities with four-year colleges, then ruled out those that didn't have total enrollment of at least 1,500 students. We looked for certain proportions of students to overall population, ruling out those communities where the student ratio was too low or too high. Because of college towns' vulnerability to rundown rental property, we also omitted towns and small cities with low rates of owner-occupied housing.

We then applied 15 variables to assess arts and culture, recreation, intellectual activity, historic preservation and cost of living:

  • Population
  • Population change, 1990-2000
  • Total college enrollment
  • Median age
  • Per-capita income
  • Unemployment rate
  • Owner-occupied housing
  • Restaurants
  • Book, music and periodical stores
  • Entertainment offerings
  • Publishers, recording studios and other information-oriented companies
  • Public library holdings, circulation and expenditures
  • Grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities
  • Symphony orchestras
  • Historic sites and historic districts

Wherever possible, a median was determined for each variable, based on a per-capita figure. In some categories, such as historic districts, communities were grouped according to size and a median value was determined for group. College towns were arranged by population, as recorded in the 2000 Census:

  • Big cities: 300,000+
  • Medium-sized cities: 100,000-299,999
  • Small cities: 20,000 to 99,999
  • Towns: up to 19,999

More on statistical sources

Released April, 2002


Los Angeles, CA

Pros: climate; entertainment-media capital; geographic diversity; beaches.

Cons: Traffic; bad schools; gangs; too spread out.

This is a good place to Enjoy nightlife, including restaurants, bars, clubs.

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