The United States population is more educated than ever as jobs require more advanced degrees in today’s modern economy. In 2017, 90% of the 25 and older population had completed a high school degree. A large proportion of individuals go on to obtain higher degrees for more specialization in their fields. Along with more job prospects, educated populations tend to have improved public health and greater political and civic engagement.
This trend is especially apparent in college towns, where one or more significant institutes of higher education drive community advancement. Large universities contribute to the economic development, innovation, and culture of the surrounding community by attracting diverse students and faculty members. College towns are great places to live because of the variety of opportunities and events for residents.
Successful colleges also draw in industry and government partners who want to collaborate on research projects. The skilled workers and degree holders in the town benefit from the job opportunities which helps support economic growth in the area. Being surrounded by a well-educated population is the driving force for innovation in many college towns.
Determining the smartest college towns across the United States is challenging, but this guide helps break it down. Looking at data from WalletHub, they break down the educational accomplishments of various cities across the nation, and we have extracted which locales on the list would be considered college towns. Their ranking is based on the level of education in the population, the quality of programs offered, public school systems, and the gender education gap. Note that we are not affiliated with Wallethub.
Without further ado, here are the 10 smartest college towns in the US.
10. Provo-Orem, UT
Provo-Orem is a thriving economic and cultural center with continually expanding businesses and transportation systems. Because of its rapid growth, Forbes cited Provo as one of the Best Small and Medium-Sized Cities for Jobs in 2017. The area’s most considerable growth is in industries like business and professional services that tend to hire educated people.
The major universities in the area also contribute to the intelligence of the town.
Provo is home to Brigham Young University, the third-largest private university in the United States with over 34,000 students. The nearby Utah Valley University brings in over 40,000 undergraduate and graduate students to the Provo-Orem area.
Schools in Provo-Orem: Brigham Young University, Utah Valley University, Provo College
9. Raleigh, NC
As part of the Research Triangle, Raleigh draws in an educated workforce to the many tech companies and enterprises. The city is also home to many industry leaders such as Cisco, IBM, GlaxoSmithKline, and Lenovo. These big players were drawn to Raleigh due to the presence of NC State, a major research university that educates the most North Carolinans nationwide.
The university also has educational programs such as NC State Extension that transfer research-based knowledge to members of the Raleigh community. The general public transfers academic learnings into practical applications that make their everyday life easier.
Thanks to the university’s prominent role in research, Raleigh has become the #7 metropolitan area for STEM nationwide. These technical careers, typically requiring a college education, provide lucrative employment options and remain in demand as technology continues to advance.
Schools in Raleigh: North Carolina State University, Meredith College, St. Augustine’s University
8. Colorado Springs, CO
Although beautiful mountains may be the first thing to come to mind, Colorado Springs is also one of the smartest cities. More than 38% of residents earn a bachelor’s degree or higher, the second-highest attainment rate in the country.
This is primarily thanks to the schools in the surrounding area, whose graduates go on to join the regional workforce. 5 universities in Colorado Springs are certified NSA Centers of Academic Excellence. Colorado College is consistently ranked in the top 3 most innovative schools by US News because of their Block Plan, where students can explore subjects in-depth.
Along with the local colleges, the businesses in the area are invested in educating their community. They provide real-world experiences at all levels to help develop the local talent pipeline.
Schools in Colorado Springs: Colorado College, University of Colorado Colorado Springs, US Air Force Academy, Pikes Peak Community College, Colorado Technical University
7. Bridgeport-Stamford, CT
Bridgeport-Stamford is Connecticut’s most educated area, with nearly 47% of adults in the area holding a college degree or higher. This has economic implications as well, with Bridgeport-Stamford households earning a median income of $90,000 in comparison to the state’s average of $73,000.
The University of Bridgeport is a major contributor to the area’s education, with a diverse student body from over 45 states and 80 countries. The college also has career-oriented programs for any residents seeking personal and professional improvement.
As a result of the many public schools and universities in the Bridgeport-Stamford area, there is a large proportion of the population invested in education. As of 2021, there were 70,000 employees in education.
Schools in Bridgeport: University of Bridgeport, Housatonic Community College, University of Connecticut Stamford, Sacred Heart University Stamford
6. Tacoma, WA
Tacoma is where creative thinkers converge. The Tacoma School of the Arts was one of the nation’s first schools to implement a standards-based instruction. Today it is a model for educational innovation and influences designs for many schools across the United States.
Nearby colleges such as the University of Puget Sound influence the education of the surrounding area, with 93% of graduates employed or continuing education after seven months. The school also engages in intellectual, service, and cultural projects that enhance the community and the region. As a result, it has been recognized as one of 40 “Colleges that Change Lives.”
Students and residents alike enjoy the use of the many DIY Makerspaces across Tacoma. These include business incubators, workspaces, and other design facilities that encourage innovation from the general public.
Schools in Tacoma: University of Puget Sound, University of Washington Tacoma, Tacoma Community College, Bates Technical College, Corban University
5. Cambridge, MA
As home to two of the most academically renowned universities nationwide, it’s no surprise that Cambridge is one of the smartest college towns. Thanks to the presence of Harvard and MIT, 28.5% of the population is enrolled in a degree program. These schools also drive innovation that affects the world, with over 100 Nobel Prize winners between the two schools.
After graduating, many alumni choose to stay in Cambridge to work alongside their college-educated peers. Kendall Square is known as the most innovative square mile on the planet, with a high concentration of successful startups. In addition, the success of Kendall Square companies attracts other businesses and an educated workforce. As a result, Cambridge has an impressive 79% of the population that holds at least a Bachelor’s degree in comparison to the national average of 32%.
Schools in Cambridge: Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Lesley University
4. Madison, WI
Forbes ranked Madison as the second in the nation for education based on college options and school support. This impressive achievement draws in many businesses looking for a high education and skill base. Even with the high number of companies in the area, UW-Madison is the largest employer in the state.
The school’s groundbreaking research and 45,000 students significantly impact Madison’s economy, culture, and demographics. The growing tech economy has been fostered by relationships between UW-Madison and local entrepreneurs, who transfer academic research into real-world applications.
Most big-name companies and biotech startups in the area look to hire the brightest minds in the field. There is no shortage in Madison, where UW-Madison confers the most PhDs nationwide.
Schools in Madison: University of Wisconsin – Madison, Edgewood College
3. Durham-Chapel Hill, NC
Along with Raleigh, Durham-Chapel Hill forms the other two corners of the Research Triangle. This area fuels the local economy and drives global innovation through research from Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill. Taken together, the major universities of the Research Triangle spent approximately $2.9 billion in research expenditures in 2019.
Durham-Chapel Hill is a national leader in health-related employment and research thanks to the Duke University Hospital, Duke Health System, and many other private companies in the area.
The area also shines in terms of public education. In 2017, Forbes rated Durham as one of the “Top 20 Places to Educate Your Child.” The metropolitan area was the only district from North Carolina to make the list.
Schools in Durham-Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, North Carolina Central University
2. Arlington-Alexandria, VA
Only a short Metro ride away, Arlington-Alexandria is influenced by the proximity to Washington DC. Along with many federal, civil, and private companies, it is one of the nation’s smartest mid-sized cities. In Arlington, 93.9% of residents have graduated high school.
The Arlington-Alexandria area is also home to many essential departments that require a highly-educated workforce. The National Science Foundation, headquartered in Alexandria, works to identify and fund work at the frontier of science and engineering nationwide. In addition, the nearby US Patent and Trademark Office works to encourage the economy, support innovation, and foster an entrepreneurial spirit. The department also collaborates with STEM organizations in the area on outreach and educational programming for the general public.
Schools in Arlington-Alexandria: Marymount University, George Mason University Arlington, Northern Virginia Community College
1. Ann Arbor, MI
In Ann Arbor, the economy is centered around the well-recognized University of Michigan. UMich tops the rankings as the #1 US Public University by the QS World University Rankings and #3 National Undergraduate Public University by US News. UMich students and alumni are natural innovators, with 502 new inventions and 22 new businesses in 2019.
Ann Arbor’s economy is driven by technology, with several nearby companies drawn to the university’s research. UMich is also one of Michigan’s top employers, as the workplace of over 30,000 residents.
In addition, a survey by the Detroit Regional Chamber indicates that over 60% of graduates remained in-state, where they are able to contribute to the highly-educated population. Ann Arbor is home to the highest share of bachelor’s degrees for people 25 and older, at an impressive 55.2%.
Schools in Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, Concordia University Ann Arbor, Cleary University