We may be top-ranked in basketball, but this report says we’re quite a bit lower on list of college towns

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University of Kansas campus

According to the pollsters in college basketball, we can legitimately chant, “We’re No. 1!” In the broader world of college towns, add two zeros to that number, and you’ll be right on target. Yes, there is a new report out that ranks Lawrence No. 100 among small college towns in the U.S.

You are right, that doesn’t sound as good in a chant, especially when you consider there were only 200 towns ranked in the category. (“We are the midpoint, we are the median!” math majors are already chanting.)

The latest report comes from the online financial services firm WalletHub, and it is possible they are not as smart as college basketball pollsters. In other words, make of the WalletHub report what you want, but I’m going to use it as an excuse to have fun with some numbers. (“Sums are fun, sums are fun!” the math majors chant.)

Here is what I’m going to do. I’m going to look at the 200 small college towns ranked by WalletHub and pull out the towns that actually are home to major universities like KU. WalletHub includes towns that have some pretty small universities and calls them a college town. Next, I will tell you the ranking WalletHub gave the town, with 1 being the best and 200 being the worst.

WalletHub used all sorts of metrics to come up with their ranking, including the cost of an education, housing costs, a cost of living index, median incomes, university rankings, unemployment rates, crime rates, and lots of crazy things like food trucks per capita, the average cost of fitness club membership and other topics that apparently appeal to young people. (Get off my lawn, get off my lawn!” the old man chants.)

But I’m also going to add one piece of data of my own. As I reported earlier this month, the federal government has now released gross domestic product numbers for every county in the country. GDP is just a fancy way of measuring a county’s total economy. In addition to the WalletHub ranking, I’ll provide a percentage that shows the growth rate from 2012-2015 — the most recent statistics available — for the economy of the county in which the university town is located.

OK, here we go with a look at the major university towns that are in the top 20:

• Ann Arbor, Mich., University of Michigan: No. 1, up 5.2 percent

• Provo, Utah, Brigham Young University: No. 2, up 14 percent

• West Lafayette, Ind., Purdue: No. 3, up 4.1 percent

• Storrs, Conn., University of Connecticut: No. 6, down 3.2 percent

• College Station, Texas, Texas A&M: No. 8, up 10.5 percent

• Starkville, Miss., Mississippi State: No. 9, down 1.9 percent

• Charlottesville, Va., University of Virginia: No. 10, up 3.8 percent

• East Lansing, Mich., Michigan State: No. 11, up 3.5 percent

• Athens, Ga., University of Georgia: No. 12, up 4.5 percent

• Berkeley, Calif., University of Cal-Berkeley: No. 15, up 13 percent

• Fayetteville, Ark., University of Arkansas: No. 16 up 9.1 percent

• Chapel Hill, N.C., University of North Carolina: No. 19, N/A

• Logan, Utah, Utah State: No. 20, up 7.1 percent

Here’s look at Big 12 communities and others that are near Lawrence:

• Ames, Iowa, Iowa State: No. 38, up 14.7 percent

• Stillwater, Okla., Oklahoma State: No. 50, down 3.2 percent

• Morgantown, W.Va., University of West Virginia: No. 58, up 10.1 percent

• Iowa City, University of Iowa: No. 70, up 11.2 percent

• Boulder, Colo., University of Colorado: No. 74, up 7.4 percent

• Manhattan, Kansas State: No. 85, up 1.7 percent

• Columbia, Mo., University of Missouri: No. 91, up 7.1 percent

• Norman, Okla., University of Oklahoma: No. 97, up 3.8 percent

• Lawrence, KU: No. 100, up 5.7 percent

Note that some Big 12 towns are big enough that they don’t qualify for the small city category. Austin, home to the University of Texas, ranked No. 1 in the large city category. Waco, Texas, home to Baylor, ranked No. 40 out of 151 midsized cities, and Lubbock, Texas, home to Texas Tech, ranked No. 64 in the midsized category.

It is also worth noting that the GDP numbers should be kept in perspective. Not every university town is the dominant community in its county — Berkeley, for example, is a small part of Alameda County, so its economy is more complex than a traditional university-based economy. Still, the GDP numbers show that university communities have seen varied economic growth over the last several years. I believe Lawrence checks in at No. 11 on the list of 22 communities.

Monsters of the median. The math folks are already working on the chant.


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