The Best (and Worst) College Towns to Have A Car

Its that time of year again where students across the country load up the car and head back to college. Should the car stay with the students or return back home with their parents? There are many college towns, but not all of them are great for keeping a car. We evaluated college towns around the nation to find out which were the best and worst for keeping a car. Some of our findings include our estimated $6,538 price tag that comes with maintaining a fully insured car at school. Beside price however, there are several other factors to consider when keeping a car on campus. Is it safe? Is it even convenient? In this study we combine those questions to find which college/college towns are the best and worst for keeping a car.

For our analysis we looked at 14 different factors which we then grouped into three greater categories based on price, safety, and convenience. The balance of these factors could give us a good approximation on any university's car "culture". While one college may be very affordable, it's possible that a high occurrence of inclement weather or car thefts will make that school less safe for student drivers. A school that has a poor parking situation would also be impacted in the "convenience" section of our rankings. For the full list of the schools we analyzed, see below.

The Best Colleges and Towns to Have Your Car

  • Harrisonburg, VA

    James Madison University

  • Logan, UT

    Utah State University

  • Statesboro, Georgia

    Georgia Southern University

  • Ames, IA

    Iowa State University

  • St. Cloud, MN

    Saint Cloud State University

The best colleges usually excel in one or two of the three main factors, and do relatively well in the third. James Madison University is number one due to the marriage of low cost car insurance, gas and parking with a student population which drives frequently. Fair weather and only one reported car theft also helped give the school a high safety rating.

The Worst Colleges and Towns to Have Your Car

  • Ann Arbor, MI

    University of Michigan

  • Seattle, WA

    University of Washington

  • Philadelphia, PA

    University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University

  • Milwaukee, WI

    Marquette University

  • East Lansing, MI

    Michigan State University

The worst colleges to bring your car are ones located in big cities, or in the case of Michigan, places with tough weather and high car insurance costs. While UM is known nationwide for its storied football program and intensive academics, it not such a great place to take your car as a student. Bad weather, poor roads, and several car thefts make it the least safe college for drivers. University City in Philadelphia is home to University of Pennsylvania and Drexel, where city parking is quite bad (and expensive), as well as making car insurance costs the highest in our analysis.

 

The Full List of Colleges and Towns

College TownUniversity(s)Affordability RankingSafety RankingConvenience RankingTotal Ranking
Harrisonburg, VAJames Madison University1023101
Logan, UTUtah State University38172
Statesboro, GAGeorgia Southern University391423
Ames, IAIowa State University535254
St. Cloud, MNSt. Cloud State University2523175
Charleston, ILEastern Illinois University2717276
Provo, UTBrigham Young University283437
Flagstaff, AZNorthern Arizona University378338
Vermillion, SDUniversity of South Dakota854189
Auburn, ALAuburn University966610
Tuscaloosa, ALUniversity of Alabama11561511
Laramie, WYUniversity of Wyoming29392212
San Luis Obispo, CACalifornia Polytechnic State University: San Luis Obispo4274513
Grand Forks, NDUniversity of North Dakota4649114
Tuskegee, ALTuskegee University20641315
Manhattan, KSKansas State University21621516
Pullman, WAWashington State University: Pullman7276517
Normal, ILIllinois State University36383018
Blacksburg, VAVirginia Tech15612919
Stillwater, OKOklahoma State University58282020
Cullowhee, NCWestern Carolina University2813221
Goleta, CAUniveristy of California: Santa Barbara4426922
Boone, NCAppalachian State University1912523
Waco, TXBaylor University: Waco8430324
Lawrence, KSUniversity of Kansas30474125
Salt Lake City, UTUniversity of Utah3558226
Richmond, VAVirginia Commonwealth University56293927
Chattanooga, TNUniversity of Tennessee: Chattanooga16535928
Lubbock, TXTexas Tech University: Lubbock9425929
Kutztown, PAKutztown University22693830
Chapel Hill, NCUniversity of North Carolina: Chapel Hill4487931
Fort Collins, COColorado State University: Fort Collins55166432
Duluth, MNUniversity of Minnesota: Duluth43455033
Nashville, TNVanderbilt University31604734
Gambier, OHKenyon College14596735
Peoria, ILBradley University51434836
Iowa City, IAUniversity of Iowa6845437
San Marcos, TXTexas State University91371638
Mount Pleasant, MICentral Michigan University9840839
Norfolk, VAOld Dominion University57514040
Oxford, OHMiami University13835341
Cedarville, OHCedarville University12884942
West Lafayette, INPurdue University32873143
Carbondale, ILSouthern Illinois University: Carbondale70443844
Whitewater, WIUniversity of Wisconsin: Whitewater18805545
Stanford, CAStanford University5379346
Davis, CAUniversity of California: Davis49109447
Wichita, KSWichita State University65573548
College Station, TXTexas A&M University88501949
Bloomington, INIndiana University19687250
Tucson, AZUniversity of Arizona76156851
Tempe, AZArizona State University86116352
Tallahassee, FLFlorida State University: Tallahassee8075553
Springfield, MOMissouri State University71642654
Clemson, SCClemson University501011255
Winston Salem, NCWake Forest University3738756
Clarion, PAClarion University54902157
Columbia, SCUniversity of South Carolina: Columbia7289458
Eugene, ORUniversity of Oregon33706259
Kalamazoo, MIWestern Michigan University102521260
Dayton, OHUniversity of Dayton23985361
Santa Cruz, CAUniveristy of California: Santa Cruz61910462
Charlottesville, VAUniversity of Virginia24668463
Irvine, CAUniversity of California: Irvine67129564
Denton, TXUniversity of North Texas95364465
Cincinnati, OHUniversity of Cincinnati41785866
Colorado Springs, COColorado College79217767
Akron, OHUniversity of Akron261025168
Geneseo, NYState University of New York College: Geneseo48666669
Colorado Springs, COUnited States Air Force Academy63319070
Los Angeles, CAUniversity of Southern California83410071
Boulder, COUniversity of Colorado: Boulder59329772
Omaha, NEUniversity of Nebraska: Omaha66774673
West Point, NYUnited States Military Academy89267474
Ithaca, NYIthaca College52558375
Huntington, WVMarshall University60745776
Berkeley, CAUniversity of California: Berkely681810577
Urbana, ILUniversity of Illinois: Urbana62428878
Atlanta, GAGeorgia State University81248979
Alfred, NYAlfred University45717880
Columbus, OHThe Ohio State University40976081
Lexington, KYUniversity of Kentucky341046182
Annapolis, MDUnited States Navy Academy73418583
Morgantown, WVWest Virginia University64944284
Purchase, NYState University of New York College: Purchase90139885
St. Louis, MOWashington University96337586
Denver, COUniversity of Colorado: Denver85209987
Madison, WIUniversity of Wisconsin: Madison179310288
Gainesville, FLUniversity of Florida74825689
University Park, PAPennsylvania State University: University Park47957190
College Park, MDUniversity of Maryland: College Park93348691
Austin, TXUniversity of Texas: Austin97477092
Allendale, MIGrand Valley State University99922393
Baton Rouge, LALouisiana State University: Baton Rouge87992894
Greenvale, NYNew York Institute of Technology & Long Island University104199195
California, PACalifornia University of Pennsylvania69777696
Minneapolis, MNUniversity of Minnesota: Twin Cities78599297
Houghton, MIMichigan Technological University103973598
Syracuse, NYSyracuse University75808099
Pittsburgh, PAUniversity of Pittsburgh/ Carnegie Mellon University778773100
East Lansing, MIMichigan State University10010336101
Milwaukee, WIMarquette University 928596102
Philadelphia, PAUniversity of Pennsylvania/ Drexel University10572103103
Seattle, WAUniversity of Washington82100101104
Ann Arbor, MIUniversity of Michigan: Ann Arbor10110581105

The Best (and Worst) in Each of the Categories

We take a closer look at the three main categories to see which college towns ranked the highest and lowest in each.

Affordability

The first group of factors we looked at was price. How much will it take to keep a car at school? The first variable is car insurance. We made the assumption students would opt for full coverage in the state which they go to school. The price reflects the average for a male and female 20 year old driver. Other cost factors included the price of a year's worth of gas, the average cost of repairs in the state, and the cost of a parking permit at the school.

Most Affordable

RankTownUniversityTotal Price
1Boone, NCAppalachian State$3,278
2Cullowhee, NCWestern Carolina$3,312
3Winston-Salem, NCWake Forest$3,347
4Chapel Hill, NCUNC: Chapel Hill$3,420
5Ames, IAIowa State$4,524

Least Affordable

RankTownUniversityTotal Price
1Philadelphia, PAUPenn/ Drexel$12,394
2Greenvale, NYNYIT/LIU$10,348
3Houghton, MIMichigan Tech$9,938
4Kalamazoo, MIWestern Michigan$9,172
5Ann Arbor, MIU of Mich.$9,155

Safety

The next factor was safety. Within this group we looked at data showing how each town and state stacked up against factors such as the prevalence of impaired driving, thefts, fatalities, and poor road conditions due to inclement weather. Generally, northern and mid-western schools scored worse due to the higher weight we assigned to the poor weather metric. On the other hand, sunny south western schools performed better. Schools from Utah however, got a boost in our rankings due to a smaller number of teen fatalities and drunk drivers.

Safest

RankTownUniversityScore
1Logan, UTUtah State62
2Goleta, CAUC: Santa Barbara75
3Provo, UTBrigham Young76
4Los Angeles, CAUSC78
5Salt Lake City, UTU of Utah79

Least Safe

RankTownUniversityScore
1Ann Arbor, MIU of Michigan291
2Lexington, KYU of Kentucky281
3East Lansing, MIMichigan State278
4Akron, OHU of Akron277
5Clemson, SCClemson276

Convenience

The last category was "convenience". Many schools come from a city or have a campus where it is not necessary to drive. Other schools have such bad parking situations that it may not be feasible to use a car. To measure this, we looked at the percent of the student population which actually commutes, the average commute time, the quality of parking on-campus, and the quality of roads. Schools like UC Berkeley have a low percentage of students who use a car, but still have a bad parking situation, causing them to have a low convenience ranking.

Most Convenient

RankTownUniversityScore
1Grand Forks, NDU of North Dakota60
2Statesboro, GAGeorgia Southern84
3Waco, TXBaylor89
4Columbia, SCU of South Carolina90
5Tallahassee, FLFlorida State90.2

Least Convenient

RankTownUniversityScore
1Berkeley, CAUC Berkeley360
2Santa Cruz, CAUC Santa Cruz344
3Philadelphia, PAUPenn/ Drexel University337
4Madison, WIU of Wisconsin332
5Seattle, WAU of Washington331

Methodology

In this study we evaluated 14 discrete quantifiable factors that were most closely related to students' consideration of driving at school. We divided them into three qualitative ones, and used the conjoined rankings to form one "master" ranking of the best college towns to have a car. Below we break down how we approached each of the factors.

What Constituted a College Town?

For this study we looked only at "true" college towns. To find "true" towns, we looked at census data and found zip codes where more than 50% of the population was enrolled in college, as well as populations where more than 20% of the population was between the ages of 20 and 24. These parameters allowed us to narrow down the list of college towns to the 105 we list in the study above.

Affordability Factor

This factor was made up of the cumulative cost brought on by car insurance, gas prices, the average cost of repairs, and operating costs caused by poor road conditions,

Car Insurance

This cost was found by getting rates from several companies in the zip codes associated with each of the college towns. If there were multiple zip codes, the ones with the highest density of college students was chosen. We found rates for a 20 year old male and female driver with clean driving records, driving a 2011 Toyota Camry. We made the assumption that students would opt for full coverage, and that they would not stay on their parents' plan.

Gas Prices

Gas prices were taken from the website Gasbuddy.com. To get a cumulative price, we made the assumption of a student getting 20 gallons per week for 36 weeks (about a 9 month school year)

Average Cost of Repairs

This metric was taken from Carmd.com.

Parking Costs

The price of parking at each school was taken from Niche.com from their "parking" rankings.

Operating Costs Due to Bad Roads

This data was taken from the 2013 study from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The data is reported at the state level.

Safety Factor

This ranking was compiled by taking an average ranking of each college town for the following metrics: Number of young driver deaths per 100,000 people, the number of car thefts on campus, the number of days it rained or snowed above 0.1 inches, percent of adult population which has admitted to driving drunk, and the number of structurally obsolete bridges and tunnels. Some metrics like days of rain and snow were given more weight in the ranking due to it being a more probable safety concern than an obsolete bridge.

Young Driver Deaths

This data was taken from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System FARS. On the state level we found the number of fatal accidents for drivers between the ages 18 and 24 in 2014.

Car Thefts

This metric was taken from 2012 data from Uniform Crime Reporting and gave the number of car thefts on each campus.

Days of Rain and Snow

This data was compiled from the National Centers of Environmental Information. We found the number of days each town experienced more than 0.1 inches of precipitation (rain or snow).

Percent of Adult Population Which Has Admitted to Drinking and Driving

This data was taken from a 2012 study by the CDC. The percent reflects the adult population in each state.

Convenience Factor

This factor measured how useful and easy it would be to have a car at school. The final ranking consists of the percent of students who actually use a car at school, the ease of parking at the school, the average commute time, and the percent of bad roads in the state.

Ease of Parking

This data was taken once more from Niche.com and its parking rankings.

Percent of Students Commuting

We took a look at an Economic Census from American Community Survey at factfinder.census.gov. We looked at the zip codes associated with each town and looked at the percent of the population that commutes via car. A higher number indicated a higher importance for cars at that school, and thus a better ranking.

Average Commute Time

This was taken from the same source as the commuter data. A lower commute time gave a better ranking than a long one.

The Percent of Roads in Poor Condition

This metric was taken also from the U.S. Department of Transportation, and is on the state level rather than the city level.

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