What is the best college town in Kansas? Is it Lawrence? Manhattan?
What about the entire region that includes Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas? What is the best college community in the nation's heartland?
The answer to all these questions -- according to the Web site that knows about such things -- is Hays, Kansas, the home of Fort Hays State University.
Residents of Hays long have known their community was a special place to live. But without a large population and lacking some of the features, such as mountains or seashores, that typically capture national attention, Hays residents have had to be privately content with a community that is progressive, safe, friendly, literate, artsy, prosperous and fun.
Now the secret is out. By measuring various cultural and economic factors, a Web site that specializes in the nation's communities, parks, museums, historic sites, colleges and schools, has selected 40 communities as "Great College Towns." The Web site lists a top 10 for each of four categories: Big Cities, Medium-sized Cities, Small Cities and Towns.
Hays is ranked No. 3 in the "Small Cities" category, trailing only Charlottesville, VA, and Bozeman, MT. Small cities were defined as those with a population between 20,000 and 99,999, so Hays prevailed despite being thrown into competition with communities up to five times larger.
Manhattan, KS, the home of Kansas State University, has a population of 44,831. It was ranked sixth in the Small Cities category. No other college towns in Kansas made the list. Only Denver, at No. 3 in the Big Cities category, ranked as high as Hays for states located in the central United States.
The list of "Great College Towns" was compiled by ePodunk, a privately owned company based in Ithaca, NY, just east of "the real Podunk, a community so small it doesn't appear on the U.S. Census Bureau's list of places."
The ePodunk Web site considered communities with four-year colleges with a total enrollment of at least 2,000 students. College towns were arranged by population according to the 2000 Census. The Big Cities category included cities with a population above 300,000. The Medium-sized Cities category was defined as metropolitan areas with a population between 100,000 and 299,999. The Small Cities category included those with a population between 20,000 and 99,999. The Towns category included communities with a population below 20,000.
Hays, with a population of 20,013, scored well in the competition because of its number of bookstores and information-related companies and for its support of its public library. According to ePodunk, Hays' median age is 29.7 with a per capita income of $24,669. Hays also had a high percentage of owner-occupied housing at 57.60 percent. Public library expenditures ranked high, with an average expenditure of $46.23 per person.
"In our view, great college towns have a spark that comes not only from young blood, but from jazz clubs, literary events, book stores and cafes," the ePodunk Web site says. "They are intellectual, cultural and economic hubs, balancing tradition with new business growth. Often, they mix urban amenities and small-town charm."
The Web site explains the methodology that was used to compile the list: "The index deliberately ruled out the stereotypical 'sleepy campus town.' We wanted to find college towns with vibrant arts scenes, commitment to intellectual growth and strong economies. These are places where alumni want to live and where employers want to locate. So we imposed some value judgments at the outset. We looked at communities with four-year colleges, then ruled out those that didn't have total enrollment of at least 2,000 students. We looked for certain proportions of students to overall population, ruling out those communities where the student ratio was too low or too high. Because of college towns' vulnerability to rundown rental property, we also omitted towns and small cities with low rates of owner-occupied housing."
Finally, 15 variables were considered: population; population change from 1990 to 2000; total college enrollment; median age; per-capita income; unemployment rate; owner-occupied housing; restaurants; book, music and periodical stores; entertainment offerings; publishers, recording studios and other information-oriented companies; public library holdings, circulation and expenditures; grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and from the National Endowment for the Humanities; symphony orchestras; and historic sites and historic districts.
Here are the complete listings from the ePodunk Web site:
Big Cities -- 1. Boston-Cambridge, MA; 2. Minneapolis, MN; 3. Denver, CO; 4. Columbus, OH;
5. Seattle, WA; 6. Atlanta, GA; 7. Austin, TX; 8. Washington, DC; 9. Cincinnati, OH; 10. Saint Louis, MO.
Medium-sized Cities -- 1. Columbia, SC; 2. Tallahassee, FL; 3. Madison, WI; 4. Urbana-Champaign, IL; 5. Ann Arbor, MI; 6. Berkeley, CA; 7. Athens, GA; 8. Fort Collins, CO; 9. New Haven, CT; 10. Provo, UT.
Small Cities -- 1. Charlottesville, VA; 2. Bozeman, MT; 3. Hays, KS; 4. Boulder, CO; 5. Missoula, MT; 6. Manhattan, KS; 7. Burlington, VT; 8. Bismarck, ND; 9. Iowa City, IA; 10. Chapel Hill, NC.
Towns -- 1. Hanover, NH; 2. Princeton, NJ; 3. Brookings, SD; 4. Middlebury, VT; 5. Durango, CO;
6. Bronxville, NY; 7. Menomonie, WI; 8. Oneonta, NY; 9. Rolla, MO; 10. Conway, SC.
For more information, go to www.ePodunk.com.