Safety is still one of the highest priorities when college students choose their colleges and universities, whether across the road or state lines. This notion is understandable in light of some colleges and universities being the site of the deadliest shootings since Columbine. Students must also consider the usual safety concerns from burglary to sexual assault and the safety and security measures in place.
However, the concept of safety while in college doesn’t just include on-campus safety but also overall safety in the surrounding area (i.e., off-campus areas). Students also live their personal and professional lives outside of the campus, and, thus, their feelings of safety when out on the town matter. This is true even in the pandemic when many colleges have adopted online formats, if only temporarily, and overall college enrollment has decreased.
The importance of on-campus and off-campus safety cannot be overemphasized, too. Physical safety and mental well-being have close links to academic performance since these result in more concentration and less stress. Such is their importance that even perceived safety can make a difference in a student’s college experience!
Table of Contents
- Definition of “College Town”
- Reasons for Staying in College Towns
The Safest US College Towns
- Rexburg, Idaho
- Princeton, New Jersey
- Milton, Massachusetts
- Durham, New Hampshire
- Madison, New Jersey
- Bristol, Rhode Island
- Irvine, California
- Wellesley, Massachusetts
- Lisle, Illinois
- Berea, Ohio
- Moraga, California
- Rochester Hills, Michigan
- Pullman, Washington
- West Lafayette, Indiana
- Portland, Maine
- Wheaton, Illinois
- Elon, North Carolina
- Provo, Utah
- Amherst, Massachusetts
- Virginia Beach, Virginia
Definition of “College Town”
But what makes for a college town in the first place? By definition, a college town is a community with a large student population, and with the colleges and universities having a direct, significant, and pervasive impact on its social and economic landscape. The colleges and universities in it may be small or large, clustered in one area or in disparate areas, and offer diverse or specialized programs.
Regardless of these institutional aspects, the colleges and universities are an integral part of the community’s fabric! Furthermore, “college town” is a blanket term used for small towns and large cities that meet the above-mentioned loose criteria. In this list, for example, towns like Durham (New Hampshire), Princeton (New Jersey), and Amherst (Massachusetts) share top billing with cities like Rexburg (Idaho), Virginia Beach (Virginia), and Irvine (California).
In several cases, the community’s economy may also be supported indirect and diverse ways through the university’s structure. These include hospitals, clinics, and research facilities operated by or affiliated with the college or university. Even publication companies, business incubators, and public libraries may have intertwined history and operations with the institution!
These institutions may even be the largest employer in the community and its surrounding areas. Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, are prime examples.
Many of its businesses may also cater to the needs of the student population in particular and the college in general. Some communities may even have a student population higher than the local population. The communities’ cultural events, such as parades, and festivals, benefit from the youthful enthusiasm of the student population. In turn, the extracurricular activities organized by the colleges, and universities, from athletic meets to arts festivals, benefit the community.
Suffice it to say that both the community, and the college, including its students, and staff benefit from the symbiotic relationship!
Reasons for Staying in College Towns
While the student population may dominate many college towns, these places also attract diverse cohorts, making the community more vibrant. College towns are considered among the best places for retirees! While there may be slight differences in why students, residents, and retirees choose college towns, there are common threads.
Safety Is a Priority
Due to the high student population, both the campus and the community take the necessary measures to ensure their overall safety. The typical on-campus measures include security patrols, access control, and intruder alarms, while community measures include high police visibility and effective response.
The safest college towns are also walkable and provide their residents with efficient public transport systems. Both are a must since many on-, and off-campus activities last well into the night, even the early morning hours. Not every student is financially able to own a car.
The college towns on this list also have among the lowest crime rates based on FBI crime statistics, particularly violent and property crimes. But, of course, other aspects of living have been considered since these are also essential for quality of life.
Student debt may be a skyrocketing concern, but many college towns offer affordable housing, transportation, and entertainment options. The costs of living in these college-centric towns make it easier to maintain a good work-studies-life balance, an uncommon aspect in large cities like New York and Washington, DC. Students with modest means find plenty of things to do that cost little to nothing, too, such as exploring the great outdoors.
Vibrant Community Life
College towns are known for their dynamic social and cultural offerings, from fraternity parties to community festivals. There’s no such thing as a dead town among college towns with concerts, art shows, and film screenings, even farmers’ markets, in abundance. Your social calendar will nearly always be full of people to see, places to go, and things to do.
And then there’s the sports scene! Name your favorite sport, and at least a couple of safe college towns will be home to it. Princeton University, for example, gets the town going with its football and basketball mania.
Many college towns also make healthcare services more accessible through university-operated or affiliated hospitals and clinics. The UCI Medical Center in Irvine, California, is a prime example.
While many of the safest college towns have large populations, these places have a stronger sense of community borne by the shared history of their people. There’s a sense of everybody knowing everybody, or, at least, the six degrees of separation is shorter, perhaps even sweeter.
College towns cater to diverse populations of students, faculty, staff, and residents, and tourists. Such diversity means that food and beverage establishments are on their toes to meet their varied demands. Princeton, for example, has nearly everything from fine dining restaurants to student watering holes.
Such diversity doesn’t only apply to food! Walking around these college towns will reveal a wide diversity of people from all walks of life and races that, in turn, contribute their unique cultures to the towns’ fabric of life.
Employment and Entrepreneurial Opportunities
As previously mentioned, college towns benefit from higher education institutions by being one of the largest employers in the area. This doesn’t include the indirect and ancillary businesses that support the university system! Both employment and entrepreneurial opportunities abound for savvy individuals who can find their niche in a complicated ecosystem.
Most importantly, the safest college towns are conducive to lifelong learning. On-campus, online, and hybrid programs abound, as well as the opportunities to audit classes, attend college-organized activities, and enjoy the campus amenities.
Of course, the large student population with its young, enthusiastic, and educated people make college towns such a great place to make human connections! Add in their exceptionally safe environment, and you will want to live in one of them, too!
The Safest US College Towns
We name 20 of the safest college towns in America today. The list was partly influenced by the SafeWise list of the 100 safest cities in America, which was based on FBI crime data. (Rates are the number of crimes committed per 1,000 in 2021; VC means violent crime, and PC refers to property crime.)
Brigham Young University has called Rexburg City in Idaho’s Madison County home since 1888. With their symbiotic relationship, BYU has shaped the city as much as it has been shaped by it. The student population, for one thing, comprises nearly 20% of the local population (between 25 and 44 years old).
BYU, a private institution owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has an honor code that its students are encouraged to follow. The honor code includes academic honesty, compliance with grooming, and dress standards, a ban on the use of illegal drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, and abstinence from homosexual behavior and extramarital sex. Many students also serve as missionaries at some point.
Rexburg has an impressive safety record, too, 0.2 VC rate and 4.2 PC rate. Indeed, it’s a safe city to be in during the day and well into the night with little need for constant looks over your shoulder! The level of real and perceived safety among residents and tourists is high enough to warrant enjoyment of the diverse activities in the city and its surrounding areas.
Indoor and outdoor activities abound, too! Rexburg residents go for leisurely walks at the Nature Park, hike and take in Mother Nature at the Cress Creek Trail, go on a picnic, and watch the sunrise at R Mountain. Smith Park is where barefoot soccer takes place while the Sand Dunes are great for bonfires. Rollerblading at Porter Park, paddle boarding, and swimming at Rigby Lake, and tubing at Warm Slough are fun for everybody.
After all that physical excitement, it’s time to relax and head indoors. The city has many massage centers, movie theaters, a drive-in, and restaurants that serve comfort food, including ice cream.
Families will find plenty of kid-friendly activities and places at Rexburg, too. Check out the Splash Park to cool off, the Idaho Centennial Carousel for its vintage ride, and the Tautphaus Park Zoo for its collection of animals. The ghost towns near Rexburg are worthy of a visit just because these are creepy yet fascinating.
And dog lovers find Rexburg a great place for its dog-friendly vibe! It has one the highest per capita ownership of schnauzers in the country, with one schnauzer for every six persons.
Princeton, New Jersey
The Ivy League town’s reputation for safety has made it a consistent presence in the top 10 safest places in the Garden State. With its 0.3 VC rate and 7.5 PC rate, it’s a place where residents and tourists can enjoy their days and nights with little to fear, crime-wise. Such is its positive reputation that it’s also among the best towns to live and work in!
Princeton in its present form was only established on January 1, 2013, and it’s a testament to its willingness to reinvent itself with the times. Established before the American Revolutionary War, its main claim to fame is Princeton University, a prestigious private Ivy League university with an 8,500-strong student body. Princeton Theological Seminary also contributes to its academic reputation.
But Princeton on its own played a significant role in the nation’s history! Richard Stockton and John Witherspoon, two of the original US Declaration of Independence signers, lived here.
Princeton also has several notable modern institutions that contribute to its reputation not just as a college town but a progressive place. The Institute for Advanced Study is the second home of Albert Einstein; Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, a Department of Energy national laboratory, and Opinion Research Corporation, a preeminent market research company. Many world-famous companies call Princeton their home, partly for the safe environment, including Siemens Corporate Research, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Dow Jones & Company.
This may well be a town that also never sleeps, students cramming for their exams and partying till the wee hours notwithstanding. To paraphrase its tagline, you will run out of time but never of things to do! The Princeton-Mercer Region features plenty of places and activities related to arts, and culture, from the Morven Museum and Garden to the Princeton Garden Theatre.
Shopping is fun at Princeton, too, even for people with modest means. Malls, markets, and boutiques abound, so there’s always a place for every budget, company, and mood. Palmer Square is a must-visit for this reason. Check out the Princeton Battlefield State Park, Lake Carnegie, and Terhune Orchards & Winery for the outdoors thrill.
Milton, an affluent suburb of Boston City, is the Bay State’s fourth safest city with .40 VC and 2.22 PC, and it’s considered a peaceful and quiet town. College students consider it a haven because it offers a balance between being close to nature and being in proximity with a larger city. With its friendly and hospitable people, it’s also a place that attracts fairly diverse tourists and would-be residents for its vibrant history, spectacular outdoors, and community events.
With its tree-lined streets, it’s a walkable city that features several small commercial areas to satisfy everyday needs from food to entertainment. The most notable areas are in East Milton Square and Milton Village, and the town’s government is consistent in its efforts to improve these areas.
Milton has one of the largest conserved lands in the Greater Boston area – it’s just 20 miles from the city proper – so there’s a bucolic atmosphere that beguiles its residents. But it’s close enough to Boston if you want to get in on the action of the big city. If you have a car, Milton’s proximity to major highways including Interstate 95, Interstate 93, and Routes 128 makes it faster, too. You may also take the Red Line through the Mattapan Trolley.
Labouré College, an independent college offering healthcare education, and Curry College, a private college with a more diverse program offering, are in Milton. Since Labouré College is a commuter college, and Curry College is a residential institution, the mix contributes to the vibrant community vibe.
However, for all its peaceful and quiet atmosphere, there are exciting places of interest in Milton. Many of them are on the National Register of Historic Places, so you get a good dose of history and happiness in a day of exploration. Check out the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory, Granite Railway, and Captain Robert Bennet Forbes House for their historical significance. Get active by visiting the gorgeous Blue Hills Reservation with hiking trails, particularly the Skyline Trail and Houghton’s Pond, for great swimming.
Durham, New Hampshire
With a VC rate of 0.4 and PC rate of 2.5, Durham is among the safest towns in the Granite State! Located in Strafford County, its landscape and culture are strongly influenced by the University of New Hampshire, a public research university. Such is the youthfulness of the town that its median age is 21 years! More than 64% of its population are in the 18-24 age bracket, with only 8.6% being under 18 and 6.9% being 65 years and older.
The town’s most densely populated area includes the university, particularly Main Street and Hampshire Route 108. Here, residents and tourists enjoy the New England small-town life with its friendly people, great places to eat, and activities to enjoy, from arts and culture to sports.
Just a hop and skip away are Durham’s breathtaking outdoors, where it’s possible to relax even more with family and friends. These are safe places for families with children, couples, and singles because of the robust community spirit. The coastal areas offer diverse attractions, from the rocky landscape with its abundant wildlife at Odiorne Point to the sandy beaches at Wallis Sands. Who knew exploration and relaxation could go hand-in-hand?
Water activities are just as popular here! Kayaking is a must on the Oyster River with its beautiful river landscapes, while explorations of the Great Bay, an estuary, and salt marsh bay, make for a great day. Head for the White Mountains in winter for excellent skiing, and in summer for camping, and hiking, even shopping. (There’s no sales tax in New Hampshire, so you’re getting more bang for your buck)
The University is a major source of entertainment in Durham! Collegiate sports are strong here, while the Whittemore Center offers diverse evening shows. Fine food at affordable prices is an experience for everybody, and the Three Chimneys Inn comes highly recommended.
History buffs will also find plenty of places to visit and perhaps contribute to Durham’s evolution. Check out the Hamilton Smith Memorial Chapel, Old Brick Townhall, Fort Foster with its old bunkers, and Strawbery Banke for its colonial settlements. WWII submarines are the topic of choice on the Piscataqua cruise.
Madison, New Jersey
Madison’s impressive 0.1 VC rate and 4.2 PC rate mean that residents, including college students, and professors have ultra-low risks of being victims of violent and property crimes. Located in Morris County, the borough has a low population density with around 16,000 residents. The small population combined with the rural landscape, historic places, and community events make Madison among the best places to live in the Garden State, too.
Madison is popular among commuters, too, particularly for people working in the Big Apple. Known as the Rose City for its history as a rose-growing hub in the mid-19th century, it has retained its suburban charm with tree-lined streets and diverse establishments. Part of its enduring appeal even with the absence of the rose farms are the three colleges in its jurisdiction.
Drew University, known as the University in the Forest, has an enchanting 186-acre campus filled with wooded areas where solitude can be enjoyed. Fairleigh Dickinson University maintains its Florham Campus here, too, and its more than 3,400 students call it their second home. Saint Elizabeth University (SEU) has part of its campus in Florham Park, and it’s the site of the Greek Theater where interesting performances and concerts are made.
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey calls Madison home, too, and it has performed many of the best professional Shakespearean shows globally. There’s even a Shakespeare Garden on SEU, a testament to the strong Shakespearean love in the college town.
Madison has plenty of exciting places and activities outside of these universities, too. Bottle Hill Day gathers the community in a day filled with games, food, and music. Downtown Madison features budget-friendly restaurant and entertainment options the whole year-round, such as Stryxe, Shanghai Jazz, and Tons of Toys.
The Museum of Early Trades and Crafts, which offers crafts-to-go and the opportunity to learn about New Jersey’s history, features more than 8,000 artifacts. Take a tour on Millionaire’s Row, where Glynallyn Castle was designed to mimic Compton Wynyates, the Marquis of Northampton’s Tudor castle in England. Take a hike through the Giralda Farms Preserve Trail, a 1.5-mile trail with an awe-inspiring view of a lake.
Bristol, Rhode Island
Bristol is the most peaceful city in Rhode Island with 0.7 VC and 4.7 PC, and the Ocean State itself is among the top ten states with the lowest violent crime rate. Such peaceful quality is complemented by the patriotic fervor and perfect quintessentially of New England that Bristol has maintained through generations. The locals have pride in place and people that few other cities have, which shows in their welcoming attitude.
During the city’s Fourth of July celebration, the enthusiastic community spirit makes itself known, the country’s oldest continuously held since 1785. Everybody seems to converge in the downtown area to enjoy the spectacular parade, joyous vibe, and dazzling fireworks, and the entire town is awash in the American flag.
Bristol’s status as a college town is due to Roger Williams University, a private university with more than 5,000 students contributing to its reputation for academic rigor. Many of its programs are only among the few of their kind in the country, such as its BS in Marine Biology, BS in Historic Preservation, and liberal arts-centric Master’s of Architecture.
While the university has its charms, Bristol has beguiling attractions of its own, both the natural and man-made kind. The 464-acre Colt State Park offers plenty of activities that will suit every member of your group. Think of having a beach picnic, taking a hike through the woods, and biking along the trails. Many students take a break from their studies in its relaxing grounds, too, so it may get just a bit crowded.
Head down to the Bristol Town Beach with its striking panorama of Narragansett Bay and sunsets over the bay. Get your exercise without making it so by playing basketball or baseball, perhaps even going skating.
Explore Bristol’s surrounding areas, too, starting with a ride on the Prudence Island ferry. Once on the island, chill, and enjoy the sight of abundant wildlife, from birds to deer. Stay until sunset at the Prudence Island Lighthouse but not before exploring the beauty of the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.
Check out the 33-acre Blithewold Mansion, Garden, and Arboretum with its spectacular flowers. Learn sailing at Herreshoff Marine Museum, and learn the city’s history at Bristol Historical & Preservation Society.
Hungry after all these activities? Head to Leo’s Ristorante, and get your fill of delicious Italian fare. Then perhaps give yourself a hoot of a time with the weird and wacky offering at Musee Patamecanique.
The best thing about all of these activities: You’re safe in Bristol!
Located in Orange County, Irvine is a master-planned city that has become a postcard destination and economic hub since its development in the 1960s. More than 307,000 people call its 66-square mile area home alongside several well-known universities’ students, faculty, and staff. Despite its large population, it’s among the safest cities in the Golden State with just 0.6 VC and 13.1 PC.
Irvine is also among the largest cities, with the highest number of Asian Americans at more than 43%. But it’s a predominantly white city with over 47% of its population identifying as white, followed by non-Hispanic, Hispanic, and African Americans.
Affluent professionals flock to the city, too, and it’s not surprising considering that it’s consistently ranked as among the safest cities in America. Plus, the exceptional level of safety contributes to its reputation as among the happiest cities and the best places to live.
Irvine’s status as a premier college town is due to high-ranking universities that bring jobs into the community and innovation in diverse fields. The University of California, Irvine (UCI) is a Public Ivy that operates the UC Irvine Medical Center and the UCI Arboretum. California State University Fullerton (CSUF), a Hispanic serving institution, has campuses here, too. Pepperdine University, a private Christian university, offers its graduate programs in Irvine.
Other universities where Irvine is a host are Orange County Center of the University of Southern California, Irvine Valley College, and Concordia University. These universities have their respective safety and security policies that contribute to their students, and staff members’ ease of movement. Visitors may also tour their grounds, although there are differences in access levels.
Irvine is also home to several corporations, many of which are in the semiconductor and technology industries. Students and graduates then have abundant employment and entrepreneurial opportunities due to the city’s vibrant economy. Taco Bell, Mazda, SunCore, Edwards Lifesciences, and Sega Games are the big companies with headquarters here.
But all work/study and no play isn’t a good idea, so Irvine also offers several entertainment options. Head to the Irvine Spectrum Center, a sprawling shopping area with retail shops, restaurants, and family-friendly entertainment centers. Kids ride the giant ferris wheel and carousel while the adults can enjoy the live music.
Wellesley’s reputation among the safest cities in the Pilgrim State is well-deserved with just 0.2 VC and 4.0 PC, a remarkable feat considering its 30,000-strong population. While it’s just a 20-minute ride (17 miles) from Boston, it has a more town-like feel that contrasts with the big city feel of The Olde Town.
The peaceful vibe works well for the students, professors, and staff of the three institutions of higher learning in Wellesley. There are plenty of areas for studying and solitude and enjoying the day and partying at night with friends.
Wellesley College, a private liberal arts college with an all-women population including transgender people, has produced several notable women in politics, arts, culture, and business. Babson College, a co-ed private school, is a hub for entrepreneurship education. The Massachusetts Bay Community College maintains a campus here, too.
But it isn’t just in higher education that Wellesley excels in! The Wellesley Public Schools, including Wellesley High School, are among the best in the Bay State with a GreatSchools rating between 9 and 10. Dana Hall School, a boarding school for girls, is also known for its academic excellence in Grades 6 to 12.
Where else to start your appreciation of Wellesley than in Wellesley College? Built in 1870, its expansive grounds feature striking buildings including theaters, and greenhouses open to the public. Visit the Davis Museum and Cultural Center for free, and learn about art and art history. Lake Waban, the on-campus lake, has hiking trails and kayaking, canoeing, and sailing amenities.
Wellesley celebrates Memorial Day with fervor and festivities, including a parade and fireworks show. Picnics and kids’ craft centers complement the tours, scavenger hunts, and gardeners’ fairs. Movie night brings the crowd, too, while the Wellesley Symphony Orchestra serenades another crowd. The Town Hall also hosts weekly concerts in the summer.
The 22-acre Walter Hunnewell Arboretum has an enchanting woodland feel with more than 2,000 trees and woody plants, including gorgeous rhododendrons. Stroll through the grounds, and take in the sights, perhaps head on to the next-door Wellesley College Botanic Gardens afterward.
Hiking trails are a favorite activity, too, thanks to the abundance of trails. Check out Boulder Rock Reservation, Magus Hill, and Centennial Reservation.
Be aware that Wellesley was a dry town until recently, a fact that contributed to its low crime rate.
Lisle is a small village with a 23,000+ population and low crime rates at 0.4 VC and 6.3 PC in 2021. Due to its small-town feel, community spirit, vigilance, and good governance, it’s among the safest in the Prairie State. The level of safety and security that residents report is also why the tiny 7-square mile village is among the best places to live in America.
Don’t dismiss the little village because it’s home to several large corporations! Navistar, AT&T, McCain Food, DuPage Medical Group, Amazon Fulfillment Center, Milward Brown, and Unilever are just a few prominent corporations here. These companies like Lisle’s proximity to Chicago without the hustle and bustle, not to mention its high crime rate.
Of course, Benedictine University is the most famous institutional resident of the small but attractive college town. Founded in 1887 by Benedictine monks, it’s a top-ranked national university with a small yet enthusiastic student body of about 2,800 undergraduates.
Other well-known universities in Lisle are the National Louis University, Northwood University, and the Center for Entrepreneurship of the College of DuPage.
The Village of Lisle-Benedictine University Sports Complex is where the ferocious games in men’s and women’s soccer, football, softball, and softball happen! Track and field stars also train in the on-campus facility built through the collaboration of the Village of Lisle and the university.
Head on the Bulls/Sox Training Academy for athletes practicing their basketball, baseball, and fast-pitch softball skills. The West Suburban Sports Complex is a popular alternative since it has sophisticated sports training equipment, too.
Lisle residents take their exercise seriously, as evidenced by the popularity of the Four Lakes Ski Hill among snowboarders and skiers. Lisle has an extensive pedestrian and bicycle network that students, young professionals, and residents of all ages use for more sedate ways to get your exercise on.
Downtown Lisle has several shopping, dining, and entertainment options for every mood and budget. From May until September, the French Market opens its doors to shoppers. For the entire year, the Lisle Park District has been a favored sport for singles, couples, and families looking for fun leisure activities.
With its profusion of trees, flowers, and grasses for the great outdoors, the Garden Walk calms the mind. The 1,700-acre Morton Arboretum is as expansive as beautiful with its prairies, woodlands, meadows, and lakes.
Berea, the self-proclaimed Grindstone Capital of the World, doesn’t set its residents’ teeth grinding for fear of their lives and property! Ranked one of the Buckeye State’s safest cities, the 19,000-strong city has a low 0.5 VC and 4.3 PC rate. This is, indeed, a peaceful community where students and residents enjoy the ease of movement, and peace of mind, safety-wise.
While it was once a bustling place due to its quarries, it had become a city with more than a few man-made lakes created when the quarries were abandoned. Some of these lakes have even become places for recreation and leisure. Coe Lake is the most popular due to its gorgeous views and modern amenities, including the Kiwanis Picnic Pavilion and The Gazebo.
Baldwin Wallace University, a private university founded in 1845, is the reason for Berea’s status as a college town. Education, neuroscience, and business, as well as music, are its strongest suits. The Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music and the Riemenschneider-Bach Institute call Berea their home, too. Check out the Bach Festival, the country’s oldest collegiate event of its kind.
Berea’s strong love for culture and arts is manifested in the Berea Arts Fest, a free annual event at the Coe Lake where artists present their works. Sculptures, paintings, and crafts, among other media, are featured and available for purchase. Performance artists also bring their craft, and families have the chance to participate in various art-related activities.
The Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds hosts several events throughout the year, characterized by peace and order. Plan your visits when the Irish Festival, Berea’s National Rib Cookoff, Oktoberfest, and Country Music Jamboree are in full swing.
Head to the Metroparks for some outdoor fun. Biking and hiking trails are open for all ages, as is Wallace Lake for swimming and other water activities. Soak in the sun, too, at the open fields or play softball at the diamonds.
Moraga is a peaceful town with just 0.67 VC and 5.26 PC, and its 18,000-strong residents are thankful for it. With the mix of an active police force and community vigilance, it’s among the safest college towns in the Golden State. Nestled in the San Francisco Bay Area, Moraga has a pastoral landscape that feels like a breath of fresh air for city dwellers.
Saint Mary’s College of California, a private college affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, is the only institution of higher education in Moraga. But its expansive campus, 4,000-strong student population, and wide range of degree programs make it an influential force in the town. Among its pervasive influences is peace and order through the Green Dot program that encourages each individual to promote peace and oppose violence.
The peaceful and pastoral vibe is complemented by the Mediterranean climate, where winters are cool, wet, and summers are warm and dry. The morning fog on the green hills soon dissipates in the late morning until the early afternoon to reveal clear, blue skies perfect for enjoying the day.
The Rancho Laguna Park is a short walk from the Moraga Road, and it’s filled with scenic trails where the hilly pastures are spread out before your sight. While the trails are favorite spots, the park itself has plenty of space for explorations, so there’s no sense of being crowded. Bring meat and other food for a picnic, and grill them on the BBQ grills in the park.
The shaded canopy offered by the Redwood Trail is a far cry from the buildings of San Francisco, not to mention that it can be eerily yet peacefully quiet in many areas. Choose between hiking the French trail with its challenging inclines or spend a relaxing day in the field and picnic area.
The Commons appeals to the younger generation with its wide range of active entertainment options. Skating domes, play structures, and a frisbee golf course are among the hangout places. Restaurants serve great food while bands play at the outdoor theater, and the community gathers here for fun and food.
Moraga’s farmers’ market has a produce distribution area covering 90 miles! Think of any fruit, vegetable, and other products in California, and its farmers likely have them in stock. Many products are also cultivated and harvested using organic methods, so the farmers’ market is a great introduction to better eating.
Rochester Hills, Michigan
Located in Oakland County, Rochester Hills is a large city with nearly 71,000 residents. Located just 12 miles north of Detroit, which isn’t exactly known for its safety, the fact that it’s among the safest college towns is surprising. With just 0.5 VC and 6.1 PC, it’s a city with a small-town community spirit, an unlikely combination but possible.
As a college town, it’s home to Rochester University and Oakland University, both recognized for their educational standing. Rochester University, a private Christian institution, mostly offers undergraduate programs with a few graduate programs. Oakland University, a research university with an R2: Doctoral Universities designation, has a wider range of programs, including medicine.
Rochester Hills may have a more suburban vibe, but it isn’t a boondocks kind of place! Residents enjoy diverse recreational facilities like cycling, swimming, tennis, and golf in its municipal parks. Many of its attractions are within 15 miles from the downtown area, such as the Pine Knob Ski & Snowboard Resort, Dinosaur Hill Nature Preserve, and Bald Mountain State Recreation Area.
The Van Hoosen Farm’s Rochester Hills Museum, Cranbrook Art Museum, and Cranbrook House and Gardens are a must-visit. For arts and culture, science geeks will find many interesting things at Cranbrook Science Museum.
The Village of Rochester Hills is a lifestyle center that features numerous tenants offering shopping, dining options, even a gallery. The retail outlets sell a gamut of products from clothes, shoes, and bags to sports items, too. The landscaped gardens provide a cool oasis with several fountains scattered around the grounds. Fun fact: The fountains can be turned into fire pits!
The city’s economy benefits from its exceptional peace and order situation and the presence of the universities. There are several big-name companies here that provide jobs and other economic benefits. General Motors, Ford Motor Company, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles are prominent names here.
Rochester Hills is also considered a wealthy city with $125,000 as of the average income, with $370,000 being the average house value. But the prices are still within reach even for students with modest means! The trick is knowing where to look and who to ask, and it’s an easy task if you work with senior students.
Pullman rises like a beacon of modernity when coming in from the rolling hills of Eastern Washington! With around 11 square miles of total land area, it’s home to more than 30,000 residents who take pride in their city’s peace and order. With a 1.2 VC and 7.9 PC, it’s such a safe city that it attracts students and tourists from across the country.
Washington State University (WSU) is the city’s only institution of higher education. Aside from its academic influence, WSU is also the largest employer in Whitman County and Pullman. WSU’s programs in business, veterinary medicine, engineering, architecture, and agriculture are among the best in the nation.
Students, residents, and visitors appreciate the beauty of the WSU campus with its open spaces, shaded areas with old conifer trees, and wonderful views. Many of its buildings retain the Old World charm with their basalt and red brick construction. No stay in Pullman will be complete without a sightseeing tour of the WSU grounds!
Beyond the university lies fertile fields cultivated with wheat and legumes as far as the eye can see! These sights are the reason for its nickname, the Lentil Capital, and the legume is celebrated every year with the National Lentil Festival. The major community event is filled with fun activities, including a night street fair and parade during the weekend, a lentil cook-off, and music shows in the park.
Pullman is a member of the Palouse Knowledge Corridor, a group of organizations working to attract, retain, and promote businesses and talents. Aside from WSU, the largest employers are Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, Pullman Regional Hospital, and METER Group.
The WSU presence heavily influences the socio-cultural scene at Pullman. College bars like Valhalla and The Coug are popular because of their chill party atmosphere but can be raucous during football game days. Beer being an essential part of college life means that Paradise Creek Brewery, a craft brewery, is just as popular.
Pullman residents also rally behind the Washington State Cougars, the collegiate teams competing in the NCAA Division I Pac-12 Conference. The major events are the Apple Cup and the annual rivalry game between the Cougars and the Washington Huskies.
The outdoors is the backyard of Pullman residents who have access to Kamiak Butte, Sunnyside Park, and Bill Chipman Palouse Trail. All three provide wide, open spaces for soaking in nature, picnicking, camping, hiking, playing sports, and socializing during events. Check out Zoe Coffee, and Kitchen, and Pizza Perfection for their delicious fare.
West Lafayette, Indiana
With its low 0.4 VC and 7.8 PC rates for a 30,000-strong population, West Lafayette has made it to the ranks of the safest places to live in the Hoosier State. It has a more urbane vibe than many college towns due to its status as Indiana’s most densely populated city. Its fairly low crime rate is all the more impressive because of these urban characteristics.
West Lafayette’s peace and order situation can be attributed to many factors. The police maintain high visibility across the city that serves as a crime deterrence. Distress and emergency calls may also mean police officers working with social workers in situations that demand more civilian intervention. These are a few of the effective measures that the local government uses to improve the trust between the public and the police.
Parking and animal patrols also complement the residents’ strong sense of civic duty. Residents, including students and staff at Purdue University, can enjoy the city’s amenities, such as the bike trails and downtown area, with peace of mind.
West Lafayette also benefits from the high density of educated people! More than 77% of its population are 25 years olds and up and possessing at least a bachelor’s degree. Many of these young professionals are graduates of Purdue University, a public research university, and the Purdue University system’s flagship campus. While it offers a wide variety of programs, one of its main claims to fame is as The Cradle of Astronauts with Neil Armstrong, among other NASA astronauts, being among its alumni.
But it isn’t just NASA astronauts that make West Lafayette soar high! Many international companies make their home here, too, with the best examples being Trilogy Health Services, Caterpillar, Chick-fil-A, Alcoa, and Levy. The 725-acre Purdue Research Park has facilities for research, communications infrastructure, business incubation, and outdoor spaces like lakes and trails.
Aside from Purdue University, the city also hosts an Ivy Tech Community College campus. There are also several schools operated by the Lafayette School Corporation and Tippecanoe School Corporation.
The Purdue Arboretum is a great place for passive recreation, meaning just relaxing throughout the day, as well as for appreciating the work of scientists. It’s an outdoor laboratory where woody plants are preserved, and students learn about their preservation.
Family attractions are within walking distance of each other, particularly a zoo and a water park. The Prophetstown State Park offers swimming, camping, hiking, and wildlife observation, among many other active recreational activities. The mix of habitats, from woodlands, and wetlands to wildflower prairies, makes it an enticing place for explorations.
Portland has a quintessential New England idyllic charm underlined by its closeness to the sea. The largest city in Pine Tree State, and Cumberland County’s seat, has a 66,000-strong population spread over 135.91 square miles. Despite its large size, it has an exceptional peace and order situation!
In 2021, its VC rate was 2.4 with a 25.8 PC rate. While these are higher rates than most college towns on this list, keep in mind that Portland is a larger city. Such a relatively peaceful situation is attributed to the city’s robust police force that supports both the public and politicians for their effectiveness. Residents and tourists alike appreciate the police presence as an effective crime deterrent in nearly every area in the city.
Portland has risen from the ashes four times, each one after a devastating fire. But fire can only do its thing against the city before the water comes to the rescue. With the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Maine as its front yard, the Forest City considers the marine industry as its best. The Port of Portland is a significant seaport, while the city’s active waterfront is teeming with commercial ships and fishing vessels.
Nowadays, tourism and the service sectors have become Portland’s main economic drivers, although fishing, agriculture, and manufacturing are still present. Financial organizations, including banks like TruChoice Federal Credit Union, Bank of America, and People’s United Bank, have operations here. Unum, Pioneer Telephone, and ImmuCell Corp maintain headquarters here, too. The main production plant for B&M Baked Beans has been here since 1867.
With several business establishments, residents have plenty of employment opportunities to choose from. This is evident in the low unemployment rate and higher median incomes.
Portland also has more than a few colleges and universities that contribute to its livability factor. These include the University of New England, Maine College of Art, University of Maine School of Law, and the University of Southern Maine.
Despite its achievements, Portland isn’t a city that will call attention to itself, much less impress others with glitz and glam! Every tourist and visitor is welcome to enjoy its vibrant culture, beautiful places, and fun activities, perhaps even contribute to its evolution. But Portland will always remain true to its New England identity!
While in the city, take a tour of its attractions, and you won’t be disappointed. Start with the Old Port with its art galleries, restaurants, and boutiques. Head off to the Arts District for a creative experience and soak in the farmers’ market’s food culture.
Wheaton’s 11.49-square mile land area is home to its 53,000-strong population that relishes its peaceful environment, suburban layout, and community spirit. While it’s about 25 miles from bustling Chicago, it has a more relaxed vibe where residents are more than willing to let the day take them where it may. But it’s an important city, too, considering its status as DuPage County’s seat of government.
Within its jurisdiction are three institutions of higher learning that make it a college town. With its low 0.8 VC and 11.5 PC rates, it’s also among the safest in Illinois and the country. The city government works well in ensuring that its residents feel safe in and out of their homes through community-centric measures. Think of programs like a community watch and a dedicated coyote reporting platform.
Wheaton College is the more prominent institution in the city due to its reputation as The Harvard of Evangelical Schools. As a Christian interdenominational college, it welcomes students from diverse faiths who seek a robust liberal arts education. Billy Graham’s legacy is celebrated here through the Billy Graham Center, a museum featuring the evolution of American evangelism and conceptual exhibits.
The Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) also maintains Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Campus in Wheaton. IIT serves technical professionals through advanced evening university courses and offers its facilities for seminars, meetings, and conferences during the day.
Wheaton College’s Community School of the Arts (CSA) promotes music education in students of all ages and ability levels. The programs have encouraged children and adults to take up music that, in turn, has resulted in a vibrant music scene. The Artist Series evenings are popular in the city.
Wheaton has several attractions and hidden gems that make it an idyllic place for students and families. Cantigny Park, an expansive place, is usually filled – but not crowded – with people who want a relaxed day with family and friends. Gardens and nature trails are excellent for passive and active recreation.
Head on to Cosley Zoo for a day of educational entertainment. The five-acre zoo features a farm and native animals like red foxes, white-tailed deer, coyotes, and bobcats. Up-close animal encounters and live feedings are allowed in certain areas.
From April to November, the Wheaton French Market makes its welcome appearance on Saturdays. Shoppers get premium pickings on a wide variety of French, and French-inspired products, including food, flowers, and crafts.
Elon, North Carolina
With a population of just over 12,200 and a 4-square mile total area, Elon is the quintessential North Carolina small college town. The community continues to make it such a safe and peaceful college town, too, with 0.7 VC and 6.7 PC rates. Its strong community spirit is part of the reason it’s a favorite for students, and retirees, too.
Located in Alamance County, Elon’s vibrant economy consists of many small businesses and manufacturing companies. There are also a few retirement communities where residents enjoy Elon’s high safety level, great climate, and affordable prices. Many businesses have quirky names, too, such as Pandora’s Pies, Coming Attractions Salon, and Acorn Inn, which adds to the town’s charms.
A few manufacturing and machining companies like Engineered Controls International/Rego Products, Mabry Industries, Inc., and International Inventory Management. Elon has several churches, including Antioch Community Church, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and Elon First United Methodist Church.
Of course, there’s Elon University, a private university that anchors Elon’s residents in the value of higher education for social and economic development. While it’s a small liberal arts college by big-city standards, it offers several undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Like Elon, the 656-acre campus has a suburban vibe underlined by a peaceful vibe filled with beautiful red brick buildings, shaded pathways, lakes, and fountains.
Climb the Elon University Bell Tower, and enjoy the breathtaking views of the campus, including many of its historic neighborhoods. The university itself is filled with several places on the National Historic Register, so it’s worth exploring.
Take the Biobus, a bus system for both the general public and students for a more varied exploration. The routes include traveling from the campus to off-campus destinations in Elon and the surrounding areas.
Elon has many attractions and activities in store, with many available the whole year-round. McCrary Theatre offers live performances by students and professional artists, and the facilities have a state-of-the-art quality. The Elon Town Center has several shopping establishments selling souvenirs and other everyday items.
Enjoy varied food fare in the downtown restaurants, such as The Root, and Fat Frogg, including American fare. Burgers, fries, and soup are among the best offerings. Check out Skid’s Elon, Simply Thai, Smitty’s Homemade Ice Cream, and The Mark at Elon.
Provo is unlike all the college towns on this list in many ways. For one thing, it’s a large metropolitan area with a 117,000-strong population that manages to keep high crime rates at bay. In 2021, the city has 1.2 VC and 15.1 PC rates, which is impressive considering the number of residents, and expansive area.
Perhaps part of the reason is the presence of Brigham Young University (BYU), the flagship institution of higher learning of the Church of Latter-day Saints. BYU, the third-largest university in the US, has a strict code of conduct known as the honor code. Students are encouraged to adopt academic honesty and refrain from using alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs, among others. While these measures may seem outdated, students are less likely to get into trouble with the law and community.
The peace and order situation here is also due to the non-hostile approach adopted by the city’s police force in dealing with contentious scenarios. Their high visibility and consistent enforcement of the law have earned them the community’s trust and cooperation. There are also innovative efforts designed to promote a law-abiding lifestyle, such as the Explorer Program for the youth.
BYU may dominate the educational landscape, but Provo also has other prominent institutions of higher education that make it a college town. Both are private, for-profit institutions that deliver on the promise of quality education.
First, the Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions is a top-notch school offering several healthcare programs in nursing, occupational and physical therapy, and health science. Second, Provo College offers career education programs, particularly associate degrees in nursing, graphic design, and criminal justice.
Provo is also home to several large corporations that provide employment and drive the economy. The most prominent are DieCuts With a View, VitalSmarts, and Connect Public Relations, considered among the fastest-growing companies in the country. Other notable companies are Nu Skin Enterprises, Morinda, and Qualtrics.
Dining out is a favorite activity among residents, thanks to more than 200 restaurants of varying sizes, fares, and quality. Provo is also known for its beautiful natural landscapes, many of which are places of recreation. The Provo River has miles of refreshing water and scenic vistas that make for great tubing experiences.
Check out the Bridal Veil Falls withs its 600-foot drop, a striking vision even among motorists on I-89. Marvel at Mount Timpanogos as you hike through the Stewart Falls Trail, a more laidback wilderness scene than the famous Bridal Veil Falls. Climb Squaw Peak, and get a breathtaking view of the city.
Fun fact: Since 2013, Provo has hosted its annual LGBT Provo Pride Festival. This is aside from major festivals like Festival Latinoamericano, and America’s Freedom Festival.
Amherst is a literary town with literary giants like Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson being former residents. Located in Hampshire County, it’s the county’s most populated municipality with more than 40,000 inhabitants. It’s also known for its residents’ political activism, thus, giving rise to the local saying regarding its name and stand – “Only the “h” is silent.” (Amherst is pronounced “AM-erst” by locals)
As a college town, it’s home to three institutions. First, the University of Massachusetts Amherst is the oldest and largest campus of the UMass system. Such is its quality of education that its alumni include Nobel Prize laureates, Olympic gold medalists, and Pulitzer Prize winners, among many others.
Second, Amherst College only offers four-year undergraduate degree programs, but it’s a highly selective school. Its 1,900-strong student population has undergone a rigorous admission process and provided exceptional liberal arts-centric education. Its alumni also include Nobel Prize laureates, a POTUS, three Speakers of the House, and a Chief Justice. This is, indeed, the small school that did good!
Third, Hampshire College offers a more alternative education that attracts students looking for a more radical education. The Eric Carle Museum and National Yiddish Book Center are among its main draws, building-wise. Its progressive politics, self-directed academics, and narrative evaluations fit in well with Amherst’s political activism.
Amherst is also a safe college town with 2.5 VC and 4.4 PC rates. While these rates may seem higher than in other college towns, keep in mind that Amherst is a large town. The police force adopts a nonviolent approach toward the enforcement of laws and the handling of suspects and provides civilian advocates for victims of domestic and sexual violence.
Residents and tourists have plenty of attractions to visit in Amherst. Take the Amherst College Museum of Natural History, where more than 1,700 specimens are displayed, particularly dinosaur and mammoth skeletons. Puffers Pond is a haven for students and families who want a relaxing day of picnics, fishing, and bird watching; active recreation includes swimming, hiking, and canoeing.
Head on to Mount Holyoke Range State Park with its 30-mile trails traversing the park. Fresh streams and wildlife are among the delightful things to see here, and snowmobiling, picnicking, and hunting are allowed. Mountain biking and hiking are also popular, but many just take pictures if physical activity isn’t on the agenda.
UMass Amherst is among the town’s largest employers, Amherst-Pelham Regional School District and William D. Mullins Memorial Center. With numerous job opportunities, the 28-square mile town has a low 4% unemployment rate.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Virginia Beach is a large city spread over 497.3 square miles and the most populous with its nearly 450,000-strong population. But due to effective policy measures, it has a low crime rate of 1.3 VC and 17.6 PC. The Resort City is considered among the safest college towns for this reason and a popular tourist destination.
The independent city is a hub of universities in the region. Regent University, a private Christian institution, has called Virginia Beach home since 1977. Atlantic University, a private non-profit distance education institution, has its headquarters here, while Tidewater Community College maintains its largest campus. The University of Virginia and Virginia Tech run satellite campuses, while the Virginia Wesleyan University campus is mostly in Virginia Beach.
The city has innovative programs that contribute to its peaceful environment, such as the Community One program to resolve homelessness. The police force also works with the community and universities to reduce campus crimes and student-initiated crimes.
Virginia Beach is famed for its miles of excellent beaches perfect for summer vacations and everyday chilling out with friends as a resort city. The casual atmosphere complements the laid-back culture of the people, too, and it shows in the friendly, hospitable service in the hospitality industry.
The oceanfront boardwalk features hundreds of hotels, restaurants, and entertainment establishments that provide year-round options. The Virginia Beach Boardwalk, Atlantic Avenue, and Virginia Beach Fishing Pier are must-visit places for these reasons.
Exciting events seem to be going on at any time in Neptune City, too! But there are annual events that attract crowds, such as the North American Sand Soccer Championship and the East Coast Surfing Championships. Both are proof that Virginians live by the sea and relish in it.
Check out the First Landing State Park, too, which has a great beach and modern family-friendly amenities like restrooms and showers. Eat out afterward, and wind down.
Charter fishing trips, dolphin and whale watching tours, and paddleboarding are just a few water-based activities along the coast. Go to an oyster farm, and eat your heart out on the delicious seafood. With so many things to do and places to see, it’s no wonder that the residents don’t even want to move away!