It’s that time of year again where students across the country load up the car and head back to college. But once you’re settled in, should the car stay on campus with you or return home with your parents?
That may depend on where your college is. Not all college towns are car friendly, so 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. Besides 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 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
1. Harrisonburg, VA
James Madison University
2. Logan, UT
Utah State University
3. Statesboro, Georgia
Georgia Southern University
4. Ames, IA
Iowa State University
5. 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 that 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
1. Ann Arbor, MI
University of Michigan
2. Seattle, WA
University of Washington
3. Philadelphia, PA
University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University
4. Milwaukee, WI
5. East Lansing, MI
Michigan State University
The worst colleges to bring your car are ones located in big cities, or as is the case with Michigan, places with tough weather and high car insurance costs. While the University of Michigan is known nationwide for its storied football program and intensive academics, it’s 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 University, where city parking is quite bad (and expensive) and car insurance costs are the highest in our analysis.
The full list of colleges and towns
|Harrisonburg, VA||James Madison University||10||23||10||1|
|Logan, UT||Utah State University||38||1||7||2|
|Statesboro, GA||Georgia Southern University||39||14||2||3|
|Ames, IA||Iowa State University||5||35||25||4|
|St. Cloud, MN||St. Cloud State University||25||23||17||5|
|Charleston, IL||Eastern Illinois University||27||17||27||6|
|Provo, UT||Brigham Young University||28||3||43||7|
|Flagstaff, AZ||Northern Arizona University||37||8||33||8|
|Vermillion, SD||University of South Dakota||8||54||18||9|
|Auburn, AL||Auburn University||9||66||6||10|
|Tuscaloosa, AL||University of Alabama||11||56||15||11|
|Laramie, WY||University of Wyoming||29||39||22||12|
The best (and worst) colleges and towns to have your car, by category
We take a closer look at the three main categories to see which college towns ranked the highest and lowest in each.
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 in which they go to school. The price reflects the average for both 20-year-old male and female drivers. 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.
|1||Boone, NC||Appalachian State||$3,278|
|2||Cullowhee, NC||Western Carolina||$3,312|
|3||Winston-Salem, NC||Wake Forest||$3,347|
|4||Chapel Hill, NC||UNC-Chapel Hill||$3,420|
|5||Ames, IA||Iowa State||$4,524|
|1||Philadelphia, PA||UPenn/ Drexel||$12,394|
|2||Greenvale, NY||NYIT/ LIU||$10,348|
|3||Houghton, MI||Michigan Tech||$9,938|
|4||Kalamazoo, MI||Western Michigan||$9,172|
|5||Ann Arbor, MI||U of Michigan||$9,155|
The next factor we looked at 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 midwestern schools scored worse due to the higher weight we assigned to the poor weather metric. On the other hand, sunny southwestern schools performed better. Schools from Utah, however, got a boost in our rankings due to a smaller number of teen fatalities and drunk drivers.
|1||Logan, UT||Utah State||62|
|2||Goleta, CA||UC Santa Barbara||75|
|3||Provo, UT||Brigham Young||76|
|4||Los Angeles, CA||USC||78|
|5||Salt Lake City, UT||U of Utah||79|
|1||Ann Arbor, MI||U of Michigan||291|
|2||Lexington, KY||U of Kentucky||281|
|3||East Lansing, MI||Michigan State||278|
|4||Akron, OH||U of Akron||277|
The last category our analysis considered 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 percentage of the student population that actually commutes, the average commute time, the quality of on-campus parking and the quality of roads.
Schools like UC Berkeley have low percentages of students who use cars but still have bad parking situations, leading to their low convenience rankings.
|1||Grand Forks, ND||U of North Dakota||60|
|2||Statesboro, GA||Georgia Southern||84|
|4||Columbia, SC||U of South Carolina||90|
|5||Tallahassee, FL||Florida State||90.2|
|1||Berkeley, CA||UC Berkeley||360|
|2||Santa Cruz, CA||UC Santa Cruz||344|
|3||Philadelphia, PA||UPenn/ Drexel University||337|
|4||Madison, WI||U of Wisconsin||332|
|5||Seattle, WA||U of Washington||331|
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 factor.
What constitutes a college town?
For this study, we looked only at "true" college towns. To find "true" college 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.
Our affordability 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.
The cost of car insurance 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 densities of college students were chosen. We found rates for 20-year-old male and female drivers with clean driving records, driving 2011 Toyota Camrys. We made the assumption that students would opt for full coverage and that they would not stay on their parents' plans.
Gas prices were taken from GasBuddy. To get a cumulative price, we made the assumption of a student getting 20 gallons per week for 36 weeks (about a nine-month school year).
Average cost of repairs were taken from CarMD.com.
The cost of parking at each school was taken from Niche’s parking rankings.
Data for operating costs due to bad roads was taken from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s 2013 study. Data is reported at the state level.
Safety was ranked by analyzing the following metrics for each college town:
We looked data from at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System to determine the number of young-driver deaths per 100,000 people. On the state level, we found the number of fatal accidents for drivers between the ages 18 and 24 in 2014.
The number of car thefts on each campus were determined by analyzing 2012 data from Uniform Crime Reporting.
Based on data compiled from the National Centers of Environmental Information, we found the number of days of rain or snow (more than 0.1 inches) that each town experienced.
We also considered the percentage of the adult population in each state that has admitted to driving drunk based on a 2012 study by the CDC.
Our convenience factor measured how useful and easy it would be to have a car at school. The final ranking took the following metrics into consideration:
Data regarding the ease of parking at each school was taken once more from Niche’s parking rankings.
We took a look at an Economic Census from American Community Survey at factfinder.census.gov to determine the percentage of students who commute and the average commute time. We looked at the ZIP codes associated with each town as well as the percentage of the population that commutes via car. A lower commute time and a higher number of students who commute each contributed to a better ranking.
Finally, road conditions are tracked at the state level rather than the city level, so the percentage of roads in poor condition in each state was taken from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s 2013 study.