I recently revisited Bloomington, Indiana (home of Indiana University, my alma mater) and Charlottesville, VA (home of the University of Virginia). They got me thinking about college towns, so I pulled some data for various of them in this size class. These are communities roughly in the 125,000-250,000 population range that are home to major flagship (or similar) universities.
I have 11 on my list. For this size class of community, I believe the best unit of analysis is the county. These are metro areas and can have outlying counties. But those counties are typically rural (as opposed to the urbanized suburban counties of major metros). In my view they skew more than illuminate the data. So I use county where feasible. Some data is only available at the metro level. And because Virginia’s cities are all independent cities, I combined Charlottesville with Albemarle County where possible.
With that, let’s dig in.
Here’s a list of my college town counties sorted by population.
|Rank||College Town County||2017|
|1||Washington County, AR (Fayetteville – University of Arkansas)||231,996|
|2||Brazos County, TX (College Station – Texas A&M)||222,830|
|3||Champaign County, IL (University of Illinois)||209,399|
|4||Tuscaloosa County, AL (University of Alabama)||207,811|
|5||Tippecanoe County, IN (West Lafayette – Purdue University)||190,587|
|6||Boone County, MO (Columbia – University of Missouri)||178,271|
|7||Centre County, PA (State College – Penn State University)||162,660|
|8||Charlottesville-Albemarle County, VA (University of Virginia)||155,721|
|9||Johnson County, IA (Iowa City – University of Iowa)||149,210|
|10||Monroe County, IN (Bloomington – Indiana University)||146,986|
|11||Clarke County, GA (Athens – University of Georgia)||127,064|
Here’s how those places fared in terms of population growth since 2010.
|Rank||College Town County||2010||2017||Total Change||Pct Change|
|1||Brazos County, TX||195,662||222,830||27,168||13.89%|
|2||Washington County, AR||203,970||231,996||28,026||13.74%|
|3||Johnson County, IA||131,293||149,210||17,917||13.65%|
|4||Tippecanoe County, IN||173,045||190,587||17,542||10.14%|
|5||Boone County, MO||163,168||178,271||15,103||9.26%|
|6||Charlottesville-Albemarle County, VA||142,703||155,721||13,018||9.12%|
|7||Clarke County, GA||117,481||127,064||9,583||8.16%|
|8||Tuscaloosa County, AL||194,993||207,811||12,818||6.57%|
|9||Monroe County, IN||138,511||146,986||8,475||6.12%|
|10||Centre County, PA||154,280||162,660||8,380||5.43%|
|11||Champaign County, IL||201,541||209,399||7,858||3.90%|
Texas is killing it, of course. Fayetteville I don’t know much about, but it’s close to Bentonville (home of Wal-Mart), so may be drawing off that. Iowa City is growing at a Sunbelt rate, and we’ll see that it looks good on some other stats as well. Illinois is a shrinking state, and even a quality college town like Champaign is growing at a low rate.
Gross Domestic Product
Here are the college town MSAs sorted by real per capita GDP.
|Rank||College Town Metros||2016|
|1||Iowa City, IA||51,303|
|2||State College, PA||49,309|
|7||Lafayette-West Lafayette, IN||40,276|
|9||Athens-Clarke County, GA||36,850|
|11||College Station-Bryan, TX||33,730|
Again we see Iowa City doing great. Also State College. Champaign and West Lafayette, despite high quality STEM programs, aren’t especially impressive. Bloomington not looking so good.
Here is how real GDP per capita has changed since 2010.
|Rank||College Town Metro||2010||2016||Total Change||Pct Change|
|1||State College, PA||42,112||49,309||7,197||17.09%|
|5||Athens-Clarke County, GA||35,027||36,850||1,823||5.20%|
|6||College Station-Bryan, TX||33,207||33,730||523||1.57%|
|8||Iowa City, IA||50,745||51,303||558||1.10%|
|10||Lafayette-West Lafayette, IN||40,766||40,276||-490||-1.20%|
Yikes. Bloomington, which I take a special interest in since I went to school there, is dropping like a stone. That’s double-plus-ungood. West Lafayette also lost ground economically. This should be deeply concerning inside the Hoosier State.
Iowa City is not so strong here, but is starting off a high base. State College also started on a higher base but is killing it. Fayetteville is also looking good.
My county level jobs data is out of date, so I used the metro series. Here’s the ranking by metro, which no surprise roughly follows population. The values are in thousands of jobs.
|Rank||College Town Metro||2017|
|3||College Station-Bryan, TX||116.5|
|6||Lafayette-West Lafayette, IN||102.9|
|7||Iowa City, IA||101.5|
|9||Athens-Clarke County, GA||96.8|
|10||State College, PA||78.0|
And here is growth since 2010.
|Rank||College Town Metro||2010||2017||Total Change||Pct Change|
|2||College Station-Bryan, TX||101.7||116.5||14.8||14.55%|
|4||Lafayette-West Lafayette, IN||91.2||102.9||11.7||12.83%|
|5||Athens-Clarke County, GA||85.8||96.8||11.0||12.82%|
|6||Iowa City, IA||90.2||101.5||11.3||12.53%|
|9||State College, PA||74.4||78.0||3.6||4.84%|
It’s another poor showing for Bloomington. Champaign is also not looking so hot. Fayetteville is rocking.
Here are the college towns ranked by median household income. I used MSA here to grab Charlottesville.
|Rank||College Town Metro||2016|
|2||State College, PA||60,266|
|3||Iowa City, IA||57,777|
|6||Lafayette-West Lafayette, IN||51,410|
|10||Athens-Clarke County, GA||43,165|
|11||College Station-Bryan, TX||42,233|
My observation of Charlottesville was that it was a posh town. I’m not surprised to see it so high on the list. State College and Iowa City again doing well, but Bloomington again doing poorly. Again, the top tech oriented schools in Champaign and West Lafayette aren’t that impressive.
For the change, I’m switching to county and dropping C’ville off the list. (MSA data isn’t available for 2010 because of metro redefinitions. I could use per capita income but my database needs updated for that). Note that unlike GDP per capita, these numbers are not inflation adjusted. The percentage number in brackets is the percent of the US average.
|Rank||College Town County||2010||2016||Total Change||Pct Change|
|1||Tippecanoe County, IN||37,983 (75.9%)||51,361 (89.1%)||13,378||35.22%|
|2||Centre County, PA||44,746 (89.4%)||60,266 (104.6%)||15,520||34.68%|
|3||Boone County, MO||41,006 (81.9%)||52,752 (91.6%)||11,746||28.64%|
|4||Monroe County, IN||36,392 (72.7%)||43,582 (75.6%)||7,190||19.76%|
|5||Washington County, AR||38,278 (76.5%)||45,679 (79.3%)||7,401||19.33%|
|6||Johnson County, IA||49,226 (98.4%)||58,064 (100.8%)||8,838||17.95%|
|7||Brazos County, TX||35,407 (70.7%)||41,559 (72.1%)||6,152||17.38%|
|8||Champaign County, IL||45,254 (90.4%)||50,335 (87.4%)||5,081||11.23%|
|9||Tuscaloosa County, AL||43,450 (86.8%)||47,787 (82.9%)||4,337||9.98%|
|10||Clarke County, GA||34,230 (68.4%)||34,999 (60.7%)||769||2.25%|
Here West Lafayette shines. They had substantial growth and went from 76% to 89% of the US average. Pretty good. State College is again doing well. Athens not so hot.
These are the numbers, with a minimum of analysis. I’m sure that commenters will have much more to say.
from Aaron M. Renn