College Towns, from Life in the USA: The Complete Guide for Immigrants and Americans

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Life in the USA
Education in America
Colleges and Universities

College Towns
The phrase “college town” cannot help but elicit a fairly strong image in the mind of most listeners or readers. The phrase most likely brings forth bucolic images of ivy-covered brick, grassy common areas, courtyards, and impressive buildings. Certainly an individual's image of college and a college town is greatly influenced by their own college experience. It is hard to imagine a UCLA graduate having the same autumn in New England image as a Dartmouth graduate, for instance.

Certainly, in some very large cities, such as Boston, higher education makes up a significant part of the economy. But does this make Boston a college town. Most people would probably not think of Boston as simply a college town - to do so would ignore the very rich and varied character of a city the size of Boston. What then are the characteristics of a “college town”?

It would seem that the most fundamental, overriding, characteristic of a college town is that one or more colleges and universities have a dominant impact on all aspects of life within the community. This impact would pervade all aspects of municipal life, including:

  • Demographic impact - In a College town, a large percentage of the municipality's population would be students attending one or more colleges and universities, as well as the the academic and support staffs of those institutions. This population would be highly educated, transient in nature (there for the school year and the term of their education), and young (individuals in their late teens through mid-twenties).
  • Economic impact - In a college town, a significant portion of the municipality's economic activity is either directly or indirectly related to the colleges and universities. Students, faculty and staff, and the institutions themselves are all among the largest consumers of goods and services. Many businesses cater almost entirely to college students.
  • Social impact - The presence of one or more institutions of higher learning can provide a relatively small community with many arts, cultural, and educational opportunities that are typically only found in larger municipalities. The many offerings of the colleges and universities, as well as business that cater to those colleges and universities, provide a large portion of a communities options for arts and entertainment. This extends to major sporting attractions. It is hard to imagine any resident of South Bend, Indiana that does not have at least a passing knowledge of the University of Notre Dame's football team, the “Fighting Irish”.
  • Political impact - In addition to having more to do than is typical of other towns and small cities, college towns tend to have a youth and vibrancy the colors political life as well. College towns tend to be politically more liberal and tend to be more inclined to embrace new trends, and ideas.

All of this translates into a quality of life that typically makes a college town a very attractive place to live, work, and raise a family. “College towns are... the ideal mix of low [real estate] prices, culture, fun and high-tech growth” (“Live Rich in College Towns”, Rich Karlgaard, 11.28.05). College towns offer many of the amenities of much larger municipalities, with out the high costs, congestion, and problems of large communities. They provide a very appealing blend of small-town charm with big-town fun.

Some examples of “typical” college towns would include:

About the is a quick reference web site that provides statistics and indexes on thousands of cities and towns across the US, as well as articles, comments from local residents, and more.

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