03.27.11

25 Smartest College Towns

With the NCAA Tournament Final Four now set, The Daily Beast widens the rivalry, crunching the numbers for the second time to find America’s smartest—and dumbest—college towns.

The March Madness Final Four is upon us, and it’s clear which schools—for this year anyway—can claim supremacy with the elite college basketball programs in the country.

While advancing to the Final Four will bring these schools unmatchable exposure for recruiting the best and the brightest, college life for most students does not revolve around the rim. We wanted to find the towns where the student body encounters a rich learning environment, with towns that are concurrently intellectually stimulated.

Gallery: Ranking America’s Smartest College Towns

When we first looked at America’s Smartest College Towns in 2009, Chapel Hill came out on top. As with 2009, let’s first define what we mean by a college town. For us, it’s a town where a major national college or colleges drive the economics and culture of the community. Cities like Austin and Columbus and Boston have well-known colleges, but are also political and economic capitals, so they don’t make the cut. On the other side, we used a population minimum of 25,000, to avoid places with too much gown, not enough town.

Using the same 25 well-known college towns as we previously identified, we again ranked them, using four criteria—with one change (weighting in parenthesis).

Bachelor’s degrees per capita for the over-25 population (30 percent), data from the US Census.

Graduate degrees per capita for the over-25 population (30 percent), data from the US Census.

Median math and reading SAT scores for the student population of town’s major college or colleges (30 percent), data from the National Center on Education Statistics.

And, taking a page from our Smartest Cities methodology, we looked at libraries per capita (10 percent), with data from Citysearch.

Schools were ranked within each category based on their performance against the average for each category. And just like in Econ 101, we handed out grades on a tough curve. The top 20 percent got As, the next 40 percent got Bs, the following 20 percent got Cs, and then the bottom fifth got Ds, with the exception of the very last town, which got an F.

With our new weighting and new criteria, there’s a new champion in the house. Click here to find out America’s Smartest College Town.