Columbia falls in 'Best College Town' rankings

Lawrence, Kan. takes Columbia's 2009 spot.

Columbia is ranked No. 13 in the nation for best college town, a shift down from last year’s No. 9 spot, which is now held by border rival Lawrence, Kan.

The American Institute for Economic Research puts out an annual index for college destinations using three categories: academic environment, quality of life and professional opportunity.

Topping the list was Ithaca, NY. Following close behind were State College, Penn., and Iowa City, Iowa.

Primary researcher Keming Liang said the scores are generally very close between college towns.

“We have 12 criteria used to determine which area is better,” Liang said.

He said the drop from last year’s spot could be due to some changes the institute made in categories.

“We did modify a few of the criteria from last year,” he said. “It could be due to the modification from last year.”

The index uses information from the 2008 U.S. Census to tally scores.

“We use government resources as much as we can,” Liang said. “It’s the most consistent data.”

In order to move up on the index list, Liang said any area that improves increases the overall score.

City Council member Daryl Dudley said the qualities of a good college town include activities, culture, job opportunity and public transportation.

“We have all those things here for the students and everyone else in Columbia,” he said. “We’re not as big as St. Louis or Kansas City, but we have many of the same amenities.”

Missouri Students Association President Tim Noce said his campaign for president included a lot of improvements for the city and for the university, which could increase Columbia’s standing on the list.

“I think you have to have a university-oriented urban environment,” he said. “We have three universities here, (and) they’re all part of the downtown area.”

Noce said the best way to improve right now is to increase the campus and community relations.

“Leaders in the city and leaders in the school feel like they can live without each other,” he said. “The city has to work with a university in a college town.”

Dudley said a big part of his job is to relay the community’s opinions back to those leaders.

“I take what they’re saying back to City Council,” he said.

Although Columbia fell behind Lawrence in diversity, Noce said he thinks this statistic isn’t necessarily static.

“We are certainly making strides in diversity,” he said. “We hired 14 new faculty members from a minority.”

Dudley said he believes Columbia is a great college town already, but improvements are still happening.

“Things just keep getting better here in Columbia,” he said. “We’ve got lots of things for everyone to do, experiences you can’t get a lot of in other places in Missouri.”

Liang said the index is not intended to compare universities.

“What we are trying to do here is to compare areas, not just the schools in the area,” he said. “We focused on the greater aspect of the campus, not the campus itself.”

Noce said he believes Columbia has a certain “x-factor” that other schools might not have.

“I feel more comfortable around students here than in other college towns,” he said. “It’s another one of those abstract things you can’t measure.”

Liang agreed there were particular factors the survey couldn’t quantify.

“You will always find imperfections in the index,” he said. “We cannot consider every aspect of every area."

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