10 College Towns That Are Most Vulnerable During the Pandemic

A female college student during the pandemic
Zigres / Shutterstock.com

This story originally appeared on SmartAsset.com.

Though efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus across the U.S. have squeezed many local economies and the bank accounts of their residents, college towns are among the most vulnerable.

They are confronting potentially major losses in population and revenue if students do not return to campus. Even in towns where schools have decided to allow students back in the fall, there may continue to be dampened demand for typical collegiate expenditures such as eating out and attending sports games.

To find the college towns that are most vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic, SmartAsset pulled data for all U.S. cities with a population of at least 50,000 and at least one four-year college or university. We then looked at the total number of undergraduate students enrolled in local schools and taking in-person classes, and compared that figure with the city population.

We found the towns where students made up more than 10% of the population and removed all other cities and towns from our list. This left us with a total of 95 college towns, which we compared across six metrics:

  • Students as a percentage of the population. This is the number of undergraduates taking in-person classes at all four-year colleges and universities in the city divided by the city’s total population.
  • College staff as a percentage of workers. This is full-time and equivalent staff at all four-year colleges and universities in the city divided by all full-time workers in the city.
  • Concentration of restaurants and bars. This is the number of restaurants and bars as a percentage of all establishments.
  • Concentration of entertainment establishments. This is the number of arts, entertainment and recreation establishments as a percentage of all establishments.
  • Concentration of bookstores. This is the number of bookstores as a percentage of all establishments.
  • Concentration of hotels. This is the number of hotels and motels as a percentage of all establishments.

Data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 five-year American Community Survey and 2017 County Business Patterns Survey and from 2018 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) data.

We ranked each city in every metric, double-weighting students as a percentage of population and college staff as a percentage of workers and giving a full weight to all four other metrics. We then found each city’s average ranking and used this average to determine a final score. The city with the highest average ranking received a score of 100. The city with the lowest average ranking received a score of zero.

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