college towns in indiana

Last Updated on December 22, 2022 by

What we considered:

  • Livability
  • Student-to-resident ratio
  • Cultural Offerings
  • School Presence
  • Large Employers

The towns at the top of our list have all of the above, while towns featuring only a handful of our criteria are ranked lower. As an example, 50th ranked Tacoma has high livability and large employer scores, it lacks somewhat in the other three, particularly in student-to-resident ratio and school presence. We recognize that everyone values different things in their college towns, but in an effort to establish diversity of views in the ranking of college towns, we have decided on the above criteria as a valuable way to highlight the towns that truly are a great part of our college experience, before, during, and after school.

Tacoma, WA

Home to the University of Puget Sound, City University of Seattle-Tacoma, The Evergreen State College Tacoma Campus, Pacific Lutheran University, and the University of Washington Tacoma, this college town is bustling with students. Listed as the 19th most walkable city in the nation, and one of America’s most livable areas, Tacoma has the makings of a quality college town even without a flagship institution. A light rail system also runs through town and through to Seattle. Historically, the Port of Tacoma (Washington’s largest port) has supported the city’s economy, but today a variety of employers call Tacoma home, including local Universities, state departments, healthcare providers and Boeing. The city is sometimes known as “America’s gayest city” with LGBT couples allowed to marry and a number holding political offices. Art, seafood, microbreweries, and coffee make Tacoma a joy similar to Seattle, just a bit smaller.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 198,397
  • Student Population: 7,235

East Lansing, MI

Directly adjacent to the capital of Michigan (Lansing), East Lansing is an important economic center and home to two medical schools, one veterinary school, two law schools, and Michigan State University. Each year, East Lansing hosts a number of festivals. A large number of neighborhoods have local traditions and scheduled events, and cultural offerings abound through theaters and museums. General Motors, as well as four major national insurance companies call East Lansing and Lansing home. Since 1996, high-speed internet has been available in East Lansing, providing a great environment for tech companies and research (academic and otherwise). With many urban renewal projects in the works, East Lansing continues to improve year to year, building on its reputation as a great college town.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 48,579
  • Student Population: 50,000

Tuscaloosa, AL

In recent years, Tuscaloosa has been named one of America’s most livable cities, and one of the “100 Best Communities for Young People” by America’s Promise Alliance. Like most of the larger state around it, most of life in Tuscaloosa centers around the University of Alabama (particularly their sports teams) leading to a great camaraderie. Tuscaloosa boasts a diversified economy including a Mercedes-Benz assembly plant, BF Goodrich Tire manufacturing, and numerous healthcare companies. Most of the cities nightlife centers around the University, with the nation’s #1 sports bar (according to Playboy Magazine) about a mile from campus at the Houndstooth Sports Bar.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 95,334
  • Student Population: 34,852

Flagstaff, AZ

Flagstaff is home to Northern Arizona University, a number of large corporations, a strong cultural presence, and proximity to the Grand Canyon. A number of theaters, festivals, and music events provide a vibrant cultural experience. Large businesses in Flagstaff include the makers of Gore-Tex, Nestle Purina Petcare, and Walgreens. The Lowell Observatory and United States Naval Observatory Flagstaff Station provide scientific jobs in the community, and have recently coupled with the Discovery Channel to build a new telescope for future projects.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 65,870
  • Student Population: 26,006

Bozeman, MT

Bozeman is home to Montana State University and unrivaled access to recreational and outdoor activities. From fly fishing, to rock climbing, to skiing, spelunking, or just exploring, Bozeman has it all. For being relatively small, Bozeman offers an astounding number of coffee shops, bars, art galleries and restaurants, and cultural offerings are always present at the university. A number of tech startups call Bozeman home, with over a dozen bio tech companies, and at least eight tech companies engaged in research or production of laser optic equipment. Gibson Guitar Corporation’s acoustic guitar factory is also based in Bozeman.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 39,860
  • Student Population: 15,294

Tempe, AZ

Tempe is located in the East Valley section of the Phoenix metro area, and is home to Arizona State University. Though recently losing one, Tempe has been the home of the headquarters and executive offices of two Fortune 500 companies: US Airways and Insight Enterprises. Around these businesses, others have flocked, including JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Safeway. In tandem with a growing university and thriving economy, Tempe offers wonderful hospitality, shopping, and housing options.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 168,228
  • Student Population: 76,000

San Luis Obispo, CA

One of the oldest cities in the state of California offers Spanish and Native American historical sites, views of the Santa Lucia Mountains, and access to the coast. California Polytechnic State University fills the town with bright students every fall and provide cultural offerings, adding to the ranks of the “Bike Happening” in which the first Thursday of every month features costumed bike riders circling the center of town. From antiquity, a set of mysterious tunnels underlay the city, creating their own “underground city” that many brave adventurers have explored. With a larger metro area, there are a number of large employers including the University, Pacific Gas and Electric, and Tenet Healthcare.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 45,119
  • Student Population: 18,762

Claremont, CA

Sometimes known as the “City of Trees and PhDs,” Claremont is as beautiful as it is well educated. Home to the Claremont Colleges, a quiet community, and access to L.A.–the second largest metro area in the nation–Claremont has something to offer everyone. With tons of boutiques, coffee shops, and restaurants, there’s always something to do in Claremont. Outdoor activities are ever accessible as well, as you can go skiing or snowboarding in the San Gabriel Mountains, and swimming in the Pacific on the same day. CNN Money ranked Claremont as the top place to live in California.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 34,926
  • Student Population: 5,072

Eugene, OR

The hometown of Nike is known for outdoor opportunities, support for the arts, “alternative” lifestyles, and the University of Oregon. Eugene has lots of green space, and uncontested views of Skinner Butte and Mount Pisgah. As a politically active town with a connection to the outdoors, it’s not surprising that Eugene was home to “anarcho-primitivist” protests in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Despite the urge of some of Eugene’s residents to return to nature, there are a number of large employers in the town, including PeaceHealth Medical Group, the University of Oregon, and the school district.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 159,190
  • Student Population: 24,548

Grand Forks, ND

Grand Forks offers the cultural accoutrements expected of a college town thanks to the University of North Dakota, while also offering a strong and diversified economy and low cost of living. Industries employing the most residents of Grand Forks include defense, healthcare, education, food processing, and research. Altru Health System and Grand Forks Air Force Base are the largest employers, with Amazon.com and LM Wind Power also calling the city home.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 54,932
  • Student Population: 15,250

Fayetteville, AR

Like many of the best college towns on our list, Fayetteville ranks highly as a town in which to start a business or retire. Forbes ranked Fayetteville as the 8th best city for business and careers in 2010. US News ranks Fayetteville as one of the best towns to retire in the nation. Home to the University of Arkansas, and accompanying local bars, restaurants, coffee shops and cultural events, Fayetteville offers everything you would want from a college town set in the beautiful Ozark Mountains. Large employers include the University of Arkansas, the largest Fortune 500 company Walmart’s corporate headquarters, and Tyson.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 76,899
  • Student Population: 24,537

Athens, GA

Athens is home to the University of Georgia, has lower rent than the nation’s average, and has many venues, restaurants, bars, and coffee shops that cater to an intellectual environment. Thanks to a devoted student and community fan base, and some talented Athenians, a number of national music acts have come out of Athens, including Neutral Milk Hotel, Danger Mouse, Widespread Panic, and R.E.M. While the University of Georgia is the largest employer in the town, healthcare and heavy industry feature heavily on the largest employers list.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 115,452
  • Student Population: 34,518

Bloomington, IL

Bloomington and its twin city Normal are home to Illinois Wesleyan University and Illinois State University. Through Illinois State University, a number of cultural offerings, sports events, and businesses catering to student nightlife are present. Large employers like State Farm Insurance, Mitsubishi, and Country Financial, coupled with a low cost of living make Bloomington a great location for young college town seekers.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 77,733
  • Student Population: 22,592

Oxford, MS

Oxford is consistently ranked as one of the top college towns in the nation, and one of the nation’s most charming small towns. Home to University of Mississippi, Oxford sports deep south charm and is known for a polished night life, and famous southern authors and artists. William Faulkner’s home “Rowan Oak” is a must see, and John Grisham currently has a home in Oxford. Due to its college town vibes and proximity to Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans, Oxford has a unique and varied music scene, with big acts often stopping between larger cities. With Hotty Toddies and Verandas galore, it’s a place in which everyone should stop in at least once.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 18,916
  • Student Population: 18,224

Bloomington, IN

Bloomington, named for the prolific blooms spotted by settlers, often lives up to its name. Home to Indiana University, often named one of the most beautiful campuses in the nation, and a designated Tree City, Bloomington is a beautiful town. A wide array of support services and entrepreneurial community help Bloomington to retain and attract talent. It’s one of Entrepreneur magazine’s 50 “Hottest Small Cities for Entrepreneurs” and ranked No. 3 by Forbes as “Best Places for Business Careers.” The largest employers are in the education, pharmaceutical and tech sectors. With numerous festivals, restaurants, shopping, and drinking establishments, as well as tons of outdoor opportunities, Bloomington is an immensely livable city.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 83,565
  • Student Population: 32,371

Waterloo-Cedar Falls, IA

Waterloo and Cedar Falls are home to University of Northern Iowa, one of the most progressive populaces in the state, and a growing tech presence. In recognition that not everyone wants to move to a small town, the city has taken many steps in recent years to retain talent and attract highly-skilled workers. The UNI incubator program has housed many up and coming tech firms, and the city is in the process of redoing many trails to enhance quality of life. Downtown is bustling with restaurants and nightlife, and the Waterloo is home to one of the largest homosexual population in Iowa; a yearly gay pride parade called the Cedar Valley Pridefest draws crowds from around the region.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 164,913
  • Student Population: 12,159

Logan, UT

Logan is home to Utah State University. Besides natural beauty, and strong cultural offerings, perhaps what makes Logan most unique is the large Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) present. The Utah Festival Opera operates from Logan, and one of the best farmer’s market in the country is open on Saturdays throughout much of the year. While Logan may not be for everyone, Newsmax has listed the town as one of the “Top 25 Uniquely American Cities and Towns” in the nation. Large employers include Utah State University, Icon Health & Fitness, Gossner Foods, Schreiber Foods, and the Space Dynamics Laboratory.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 48,879
  • Student Population: 27,812

Lafayette, IN

Purdue University, around much of town life and economy revolves. Purdue has the 3rd largest Greek System in the US, meaning there’s always a social or outreach event going on. The Wabash river offers great outdoor opportunities, and local brewing at the Lafayette Brewing Company, as well as a host of other local restaurants and bars offers a great time. The largest employers in Lafayette (besides Purdue) include Caterpillar, Wabash National, and Subaru.

Additional Information:

  • Population:67,925
  • Student Population: 38,788

Manhattan, KS

Though small, Manhattan has been voted one of the top ten places to retire young by CNN and Money magazine. In 2011, Forbes also ranked Manhattan first for “Best Small Communities for a Business and Career.” Home to Kansas State University, the school’s 24,000 students promote nightlife and cultural offerings in the town. Tallgrass Brewing Co offers homegrown brews. As far as employment, The National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, Kansas Department of Agriculture, Kansas State University, and the Farm Bureau all call Manhattan home.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 56,069
  • Student Population: 25,000

Lawrence, KS

Lawrence is home to University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University. While creature comforts and livability are present (as seen in it’s high ranking in many “best cities to retire” lists), it’s also been described by the New York Times as having “the most vital music scene between Chicago and Denver.” The yearly Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival is at the center of the music scene, garnering some 60,000 ticket sales in recent years. Top employers in Lawrence include the University of Kansas, Vangent, Hallmark Cards and the World Company.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 89,512
  • Student Population: 27,784

Syracuse, NY

Syracuse is the economic and educational hub for central New York, a region of over 1 million residents. This being said it has the offerings of a large metro area, while also being the home of centrally located Syracuse University, some schools of the State University of New York, and Le Moyne College. Cultural offerings such as theaters, opera, museums, classical music, and a vibrant nightlife complement life in Syracuse. Large employers include the Upstate University Healthy System, local universities, Lockheed Martin, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 145,170
  • Student Population: 24,667

Columbia, MO

Columbia has a reputation of progressive politics, protected journalism and public art centering around University of Missouri, Columbia College, and Stephens College. Shelter Insurance, Columbia Insurance Group, MFA Oil, and Carfax all call Columbia home, though the University of Missouri and healthcare industries are by far the largest employers. Numerous restaurants and venues that bring some of the best indie and jazz artists through Columbia help keep the town busy at nights. And NCAA D1 athletics and a number of professional teams within a few hours drive are also a plus.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 115,276
  • Student Population: 37,954

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