August is often an exciting time in college towns, as waves of college students head back to their campuses all across the United States. Where exactly do these students live, and where do they live once they graduate? And what is the makeup of these small towns?
As we look at the map of adults enrolled in college, many of the popular college towns jump off of the map. Many of the larger colleges in this country are not in major cities, but rather in small and medium sized towns – so the percentages of adults who are college students is pretty high – places like State College, Pennsylvania; South Bend, Indiana; Norman and Stillwater, Oklahoma; Pullman, Washington; Auburn, Alabama, etc.
Let’s look at the percentage of the adult population with a college degree. As we look at the map below, adults with college degrees typically live in metropolitan areas such as coastal CA, east coast from DC to Boston, and interestingly enough much of Colorado.
When we look at some of the college towns, we see that college students and college graduates make up the majority of their populations. For example, State College, Pennsylvania has a total adult population of 39,784 in 2020. There are 10,219 college graduates, and 27,560 college students (some can be both). Almost every adult in State College has, or is working on, a college degree. Similarly, Tuscaloosa, Alabama has a total of 83,104 adults, 19,596 of whom are college graduates (which is high for small town Alabama), and 21,772 are current students. Lawrence, Kansas, home of the KU Jayhawks, has a total population of 82,350 adults, 31,302 are college graduates, and 25,097 are current students. When we compare these to non-college towns of the same size, we see a different picture. Odessa, Texas has an adult population of 83,089, and college grads make up 13,093 people, and there are 5,971 current students. Miami Beach, Florida has 80,764 adults, 35,934 are college grads, and 5,885 are students.
When we look at major metropolitan areas, we see that there are many college graduates and students, but when we compare the percentages to some of the smaller college towns, the major cities pale in comparison. Los Angeles, for example, has an adult population of 3,200,525. Of those, 964,882 have a college degree, and 350,148 are in college.
Taking a look at one area, the two maps below of southern Michigan tell the story of college students, and college graduates. These maps show the small town orientation of universities in much of the country. Students are obviously heavily concentrated in areas like Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan, while graduates are far more dispersed across the state.