Preparation for work, quality of life factors considered

GREAT BARRINGTON, Massachusetts – November 23, 2015 – Today, the American Institute for Economic Research ranked the top U.S. metropolitan areas for college students. The annual AIER ranking is based on 11 criteria that gauge each area’s cultural and economic qualities.

In its 2015/2016 College Destinations Index, the cities that ranked highest overall in each city size category were San Francisco; San Jose, California; Boulder, Colorado; and Ames, Iowa. (See longer list below.)

“Many college-bound students will find themselves with a happy choice of where to go. Other rankings will help you with a college’s prestige, academics, financial aid and the quality of campus services. AIER’s College Destinations Index will help you weigh the value of the wider community in making your decision,” said Rosalind Greenstein, director of research and education at AIER.

AIER researchers weighed these criteria: youth unemployment rate; share of college-educated population; economic vitality; STEM workers; the price of rent; public transportation; availability of arts & entertainment; employees in cultural institutions; clubs and restaurants; cost of living minus rent; and diversity.

Notably, the highest ranking metro areas for the large and midsize categories – San Francisco and San Jose –  offer strong opportunities to prepare for work after college. The highest-ranking metro areas for the small cities and towns, Boulder and Ames, share strong social and cultural offerings that enhance the quality of student life.

Cities that didn’t rank at the top of the list overall still showed their own areas of strength. New York, for instance, was tops for public transportation. Washington, D.C. led in employing STEM workers. St. Louis featured the lowest cost of living. Minneapolis featured low youth unemployment, and Los Angeles rated tops for entertainment.

Among the midsize metros, Portland, Oregon ranked first for public transportation, and Cincinnati had the best cost of living. Grand Rapids, Michigan had the lowest youth unemployment, and, no surprise, Nashville led in arts and entertainment offerings.

Huntsville, Alabama, led the small metros in employing STEM workers. Asheville, North Carolina featured the best cost of living, and Provo, Utah had the lowest youth unemployment.

And among college towns, Ithaca, New York had the best public transportation system; Corvallis, Oregon led in STEM employment; Manhattan, Kansas had the lowest cost of living; Columbia, Missouri had the lowest youth unemployment; and Santa Fe, New Mexico topped the arts and entertainment offerings.

Detailed rankings are available at

The top college destinations in each category are, in descending order:

Major metros (over 2.5 million residents):

1. San Francisco
2. Boston
3. Seattle
4. Denver
5. Houston
6. Minneapolis
7. Washington, D.C.
8. Dallas
9. San Diego
10. New York
11. Baltimore
12. Los Angeles
13. Atlanta
14. St. Louis
15. Tampa-St. Petersburg

Midsize metros (1 million – 2.5 million):

1. San Jose, California
2. Austin, Texas
3. Pittsburgh
4. Raleigh
5. Salt Lake City
6. Portland, Oregon
7. Nashville
8. Columbus, Ohio
9. Grand Rapids, Michigan
10. Milwaukee
11. Cincinnati
12. Buffalo, New York
13. New Orleans
14. Cleveland
15. Kansas City
16. San Antonio, Texas
17. Indianapolis
18. Rochester, New York
19. Hartford, Connecticut
20. Orlando, Florida

Small metros (250,000-1 million):

1. Boulder, Colorado
2. Durham, North Carolina
3. Ann Arbor, Michigan
4. Madison, Wisconsin
5. Fort Collins, Colorado
6. Santa Barbara, California
7. Provo, Utah
8. Naples, Florida
9. Trenton, New Jersey
10. Huntsville, Alabama
11. Lincoln, Nebraska
12. Asheville, North Carolina
13. Des Moines, Iowa
14. Omaha, Nebraska
15. Portland, Maine
16. Gainesville, Florida
17. San Luis Obispo, California
18. Honolulu, Hawaii
19. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
20. Lexington, Kentucky

College towns (Below 250,000):

1. Ames, Iowa
2. Ithaca, New York
3. Iowa City, Iowa
4. Charlottesville, Virginia
5. Columbia, Missouri
6. Santa Fe, New Mexico
7. Corvallis, Oregon
8. Missoula, Montana
9. Fargo, North Dakota
10. Lafayette, Indiana
11. Manhattan, Kansas
12. Bloomington, Indiana
13. College Station, Texas
14. Rochester, Minnesota
15. Lawrence, Kansas
16. Champaign-Urbana, Illinois
17. State College, Pennsylvania
18. Morgantown, West Virginia
19. Blacksburg, Virginia
20. Mankato, Minnesota                                        

To interview Rosalind Greenstein, contact Aaron Nathans, communications manager at AIER, at 413-528-1216 ext. 3135, or email him at Aaron.Nathans[at]aier[dot]org.

AIER empowers Americans to take charge of their economic futures.  Non-partisan and independent, we produce objective insights and useful information that help people successfully pursue their economic and financial goals. To become a member, go to or call us at 413.528.1216.