American Institute for Economic Research Unveils Latest Ranking of Best U.S. Cities and Towns For College Students

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The 2013-2014 AIER College Destinations Index ranks the top 75 towns and cities based on a statistical analysis of 229 Metropolitan Statistical Areas with student populations of at least 15,000.

“In today’s economic climate, simply attending a great university isn’t enough,” said Steven Cunningham, Chief Economist at AIER. “The city or town the university is located in can have as much an effect on a student’s experience and future prospects."

Update: An earlier version of the College Destinations Index discussed in the press release had a data error affecting the Top 20 College Towns rankings. Below is the correct list. We apologize for the error.

The American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) has released the latest edition of its College Destinations Index (AIER CDI), which names the top 75 towns and cities in the United States for college students based on a statistical analysis of each location’s overall economic and academic environment, quality of life and employment opportunities. This year’s list shows some locations bouncing back from the recent recession stronger than others, leading to some changes in the rankings.

“In today’s economic climate, simply attending a great university isn’t enough,” said Steven Cunningham, Chief Economist at AIER. “The city or town the university is located in can have as much an effect on a student’s experience and future prospects. With the economic recovery taking root, more businesses are opening throughout places we studied and that leads to greater opportunity for students, both now and in the future. Our aim is to provide an additional resource to students and their parents to help them evaluate their college decision.”

The top 75 college destinations – grouped by total residential populations – are charted here: The MSAs are broken down into the following categories: Major Metros, Mid-Size Metros, Small Metros, and College Towns. The top-rated MSA in each category, respectively, were: New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA, Boulder, CO and Ithaca, NY.

In creating the Index, various factors are evaluated using the most current data available from the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, National Science Foundation, and the Small Business Administration.

The AIER CDI ranks destinations based on statistical economic analysis of each MSA across the following areas:

Academic Environment:

  •     Student Concentration: number of college students per 1,000 population
  •     Student Diversity: percentage of student body that are non-U.S. residents
  •     Research Capacity: Academic R&D expenditure per capita
  •     Degree Attainment: percent of the 25-to-34-year-old population with bachelor’s degree or higher

Quality of Life:    

  •     Cost of Living: based upon average rent for a two-bedroom apartment
  •     Arts and Leisure: number of cultural and entertainment venues per 100,000 population
  •     City Accessibility: percentage of workers over age 16 who commute on foot or by public transportation or bicycle
  •     Creative Class: percentage of workforce in the arts, education, knowledge industries, science, engineering, management, other fields

Professional Opportunities:

  •     Earning Potential: income per capita
  •     Entrepreneurial Activity: net annual increase in total number of business establishments per 100,000 population
  •     Unemployment Rate: percent of labor force without jobs but actively seeking jobs within the last four weeks
  •     Brain Gain/Drain: year-over-year ratio of population with B.A. degrees living in the area

“Cities and towns on this list don’t just offer a great academic environment or college experience for students,” Cunningham added. “They’re also vibrant places for businesses to open, tourists to visit and people to live. These rankings are just as important for a city as they are for the universities based there.”

Complimentary electronic copies of the complete AIER College Destinations Index analysis and companion brochure are available from AIER’s website, Print brochures are available at no cost by emailing info(at)aier(org)org.

Top Major Metros Rankings:
1.    New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA
2.    Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH
3.    Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
4.    San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA
5.    Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI
6.    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA
7.    Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA
8.    Baltimore-Towson, MD
9.    Denver-Aurora-Broomfield, CO
10.    Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL-IN-WI
11.    Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD
12.    St. Louis, MO-IL
13.    Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL
14.    Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA
15.    San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA

Top Mid-Size Metros Rankings:
1.    San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
2.    Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, TX
3.    Pittsburgh, PA
4.    Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY
5.    Raleigh-Cary, NC
6.    Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT
7.    Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, TN
8.    Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA
9.    Salt Lake City, UT
10.    Columbus, OH
11.    Rochester, NY
12.    Oklahoma City, OK
13.    Providence-New Bedford-Fall River, RI-MA
14.    Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI
15.    Cincinnati-Middletown, OH-KY-IN
16.    Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, OH
17.    Richmond, VA
18.    New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA
19.    Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, NC-SC
20.    Indianapolis-Carmel, IN

Top Small Metros Rankings:
1.    Boulder, CO
2.    Ann Arbor, MI
3.    Madison, WI
4.    Durham-Chapel Hill, NC
5.    Gainesville, FL
6.    Lincoln, NE
7.    Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT
8.    Trenton-Ewing, NJ
9.    Lexington-Fayette, KY
10.    Fort Collins-Loveland, CO
11.    Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA
12.    Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY
13.    Binghamton, NY
14.    Portland-South Portland-Biddeford, ME
15.    Lansing-East Lansing, MI
16.    Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Goleta, CA
17.    Tallahassee, FL
18.    Lynchburg, VA
19.    Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA
20.    Syracuse, NY

Top College Towns Rankings:
1.    Ithaca, NY
2.    Ames, IA
3.    State College, PA
4.    Iowa City, IA
5.    Corvallis, OR
6.    Champaign-Urbana, IL
7.    Blacksburg-Christiansburg-Radford, VA
8.    Charlottesville, VA
9.    Lawrence, KS
10.    Lafayette, IN
11.    Columbia, MO
12.    Morgantown, WV
13.    College Station-Bryan, TX
14.    Fargo, ND-MN
15.    Burlington-South Burlington, VT
16.    Manhattan, KS
17.    Logan, UT-ID
18.    Bloomington, IN
19.    Waterloo-Cedar Falls, IA
20. Bloomington, IL

The American Institute for Economic Research began publishing the AIER College Destinations Index in 2008, taking over from Collegia, a regional planning organization in Wellesley, Mass., which had published the index since 2003.

About the American Institute for Economic Research
The American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) conducts independent, scientific, economic research to educate individuals, thereby advancing their personal interests and those of the nation. The Institute, founded in 1933, represents no fund, concentration of wealth, or other special interests. Advertising is not accepted in its publications. Financial support for the Institute is provided primarily by the small annual fees from several thousand sustaining members, by receipts from sales of its publications, by tax-deductible contributions, and by the earnings of its wholly owned investment advisory organization, American Investment Services, Inc. Experience suggests that information and advice on economic subjects are most useful when they come from a source that is independent of special interests, either commercial or political. To learn more, visit

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