Living in a small college town isn’t bad at all. I’ve lived in one for more than 40 years. Upon graduation, I was eager to see the world. Years later, while raising young children in a big Texas metro, I had an opportunity to return to the campus community, and it’s a decision I never regretted.
When I saw my home of four decades ranked as one of 2016’s Best College Towns and Cities in America, I was pleased others could see from a distance what I have been privileged to view up close.
In fact, two Texas locales are ranked in the top 20 nationally in the recent WalletHub study.
College Station, home to Texas A&M University, ranked 10th both overall and in the small city category. Austin, home to the University of Texas, was 18th overall and second in the large city category.
Houston was 10th, Fort Worth 22nd, Dallas 26th, San Antonio 38th, El Paso 42nd, Arlington 45th, and Corpus Christi 47th in the big-city college category.
At 18th, Waco was the highest ranked Texas city in the top 50 mid-sized communities. Lubbock was 25th, McAllen 40th, Denton 41st, and Laredo 46th.
San Marcos, 45th, was the only other Texas locale in the top 50 small-sized college towns.
According to the WalletHub website, “Experts have argued that an institution’s geographic location is just as important as a strong curriculum and supportive school environment to a student’s academic success and personal development.”
Researchers at the College of Charleston said, “. . . a town or city that provides opportunities such as museums, shopping, sports, concerts, and the like may be better all-around environments for many students.”
WalletHub analysts compared 415 U.S. cities of varying sizes based on 26 key indicators of academic, social, and economic opportunities. Among the variables were “cost of living,” “quality of higher education” and “crime rate.”
Here, for example, is how College Station ranked in some of the major categories:
- 119th – Cost of Living for Young People
- 41st – Quality of Higher Education
- 76th – Cost of Higher Education
- 163rd – Nightlife Options per Capita
- 35th – Share of Part-Time Jobs
- 141st – City Accessibility
- 91st – Crime Rate
- 28th – Share of Rental Units
- 26th – Students per Capita
Texas’ cities fared particularly well in the category of “lowest cost of living for young people.” Texas took the top four spots with Edinburg No. 1, Brownsville No. 2, McAllen No. 3, and Laredo No. 4.
“Fit is one of the most important elements of selecting a college or university, and that includes the environment that the institution is in,” said Amy Aldous Bergerson, associate dean for undergraduate studies at the University of Utah. “Students should think about how well the campus and the surrounding area ‘get along,’ what opportunities there are for interactions with the off-campus environment, and whether the town supports their personal needs.”
“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 S. Harris, associate professor of higher education and director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Southern Methodist University. “Affordable, high-quality off-campus housing is a concern for students as well as residents. Universities and city leaders need to work in partnership to ensure safe, affordable, and accessible housing options are available.”
“The surrounding community can be important in considering the transition to college,” said Amanda Rutherford, assistant professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. “An urban-to-urban move or a rural-to-rural move might be less stressful than an urban-to-rural move or rural-to-urban move. That said, the larger transitions can also allow students to increase their learning in a way that challenges assumed norms and worldviews.”
“Surrounding town is important relative to the size of the university. If the latter is small, it’s very important; if large, the surrounding town’s importance diminishes,” said Arthur Cohen, professor emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles.
View the full ranking on WalletHub.com.