Lawrence ranked as a best college town; a deeper look at KU’s rankings by U.S. News and World Report

photo by: Nick Krug

Massachusetts Street is illuminated by holiday lights and vehicles on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017.

It is a bye week for KU football, so you probably thought it was safe to put away the Crimson and Blue body paint for awhile. Wrong. Get it back out because Lawrence has been ranked as one of the best college communities in the country.

The website — which somehow makes a living off of making lists — has ranked Lawrence as the sixth best college town in America. The site uses statistics such as median incomes, median rents, the number of education-based jobs in the community and other such factors. The report doesn’t provide any of those underlying statistics, which usually is some of the most useful information to glean from these rankings. But I pass along the results anyway, because this seems to be a ranking that gets highlighted a lot in national publications and such.

It also is worth noting that Lawrence is still making these lists despite the growing concern locally about affordable housing. The reports says 30% of the ranking is based on the ratio of the city’s median salary to its median one-bedroom rent rate. So, Lawrence’s number in that category must not be too out of line. On the other hand, Lawrence doesn’t rank as highly as it did last year in this report. Last year Lawrence was the fourth best college town in America.

We also can’t say we are the best college town in the state anymore. (You hereby are ordered to remove that banner from your living room.) Manhattan is ranked as the second best college town in America. Isn’t that something? That must be why enrollment is soaring at K-State. (Oh, wait, let’s check that. To be fair, the ranking is not doing a lot for KU’s enrollment either.)

But those aren’t the types of facts and figures this report is focused on. Instead, it does give out-of-town readers a few highlights of the community. They include:

• Haskell Indian Nations University. The report did do what some fail to do: mention that Lawrence is home to two four-year universities.

• Outdoor space. The report highlights Lawrence’s more than 50 trails and parks. It names the on-campus spots of Marvin Grove and Potter Lake as the best places to “get out and about.”

• Entertainment. The Granada, The Bottleneck, The Burger Stand, McClain’s Market and Free State Brewing Co. all got mentioned as favorite hotspots in town.

• Local dream job. This one is interesting. Last year, the local dream job was an educator at the Watkins Museum of History. This year it is the “guys and gals behind the Big Jay and Baby Jay mascots.” Wow. What did the Watkins Museum ever do to you, Livability? I’m just going to assume the site actually meant being an educator at the Watkins Museum while wearing a Big Jay or Baby Jay mascot costume.

In case you are wondering, the dream job in Manhattan is — and as Dave Barry would say, I’m not making this up — “coordinator at the K-State Insect Zoo.” Wait a second. Is that a real thing? I always thought that was just a dorm room of some guy who never picks up the Cheetos crumbs.

If you are further wondering, here are the top five college communities we need to figure out how to beat.

• No. 1: Ithaca, N.Y., home to Cornell University and Ithaca College.

• No. 2: Manhattan, home to Kansas State University.

• No. 3: Ames, Iowa: home to Iowa State University.

• No. 4: Fairbanks, Alaska; Home to the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

• No. 5: Corvallis, Ore.: Home to Oregon State University.

• A set of rankings that has a bit more heft is the Best Colleges rankings by U.S. News and World Report. We reported on KU’s showing in that ranking. It was ranked the 59th best public institution in the national universities ranking.

But I have gotten a couple of questions regarding those rankings, including where KU ranked compared with other Big 12 schools. So, let’s clear that up. Here’s a look at all the Big 12 schools included in the national universities portion of the rankings. These rankings encompass both public and private schools, since some Big 12 members are private institutions.

• University of Texas: No. 48

• Baylor University: No. 79

• Texas Christian: No. 97

• Iowa State: No. 121

• University of Kansas: No. 130

• University of Oklahoma: No. 132

• Kansas State: No. 162

• Oklahoma State: No. 192

• Texas Tech: No. 218

• West Virginia: No. 228

While the rankings show KU is the fifth ranked school in the 10-member conference, it is worth noting that KU is the No. 3 ranked public school in the conference.

I haven’t gotten any questions about where KU ranks in comparison with its self-identified peer institutions. Many members of the public probably don’t know that KU has a list of peer institutions. But it does. They are listed as part of KU’s Bold Aspirations strategic plan, which is in the process of being replaced.

I took a look at how KU fared in the U.S. News and World Report rankings compared with its 10 peer institutions. In short, KU ranked next to last in the rankings, beating only the University of Missouri, which has struggled mightily with enrollment ever since racial tensions erupted on that campus.

Here’s a look at that list, with all rankings being for public and private schools in the national universities category:

• University of Virginia: No. 28

• University of North Carolina: No. 29

• University of Florida: No. 34

• Indiana University: No. 79 (tie)

• University of Buffalo: No. 79 (tie)

• Michigan State University: No. 84

• University of Iowa: No. 84 (tie)

• University of Colorado: No. 104 (tie)

• University of Oregon: No. 104 (tie)

• University of Kansas: No. 130

• University of Missouri: No. 139


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