Athens is No. 23 in ’smartest college towns’ ranking

Athens is not as smart a college town as Auburn or Gainesville.

That’s according to a new ranking of the 25 smartest college towns in the U.S. by the online news website, The Daily Beast.

Athens came in No. 23, behind Auburn at No. 17 and Gainesville at No. 19.

With Harvard and MIT, Cambridge was first.

The Daily Beast said it used the following criteria to come up with its rankings:

– Bachelor’s degrees per capita for the over-25 population.

– Graduate degrees per capita for the over-25 population.

– Median math and reading SAT scores for the student population of the town’s major college or colleges.

– And libraries per capita.

Here’s the Top 25

1. Cambridge, Mass.

2. Chapel Hill, NC

3. Berkeley, CA

4. Ann Arbor, Mich.

5. Ithaca, NY

6. East Lansing, Mich.

7. Boulder, Colo.

8. Amherst, Mass.

9. State College, PA

10. College Park, Mrylnd.

11. Champaign-Urbana, Ill.

12. Davis, CA

13. Madison, Wisc.

14. Charlottesville, VA

15. Ames, Iowa

16. Columbia, Missouri

17. Auburn

18. Kent, Ohio

19. Gainesville

20. Norman, Okla.

21. College Station, Tex.

22. (Mistake — town listed twice)

23. Athens

24. Lawrence, Kan.

25. South Bend, Ind.

- Henry Unger, The Biz Beat

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39 comments Add your comment


March 28th, 2011
8:30 am

No wonder we couldn’t attract biotech to Athens… <20% with grad degrees. Yet Georgia thinks an offer of a training program at the local technical college will attract biotech!!

Wonder why ATL is not in the list — more than 200,000 college students here…


March 28th, 2011
8:31 am

Henry, What’s the point of this article??

Nick the Quick

March 28th, 2011
8:37 am

Blame me, Nick Fairley, for this as well…

Al Feretta

March 28th, 2011
8:39 am

Athens is dumber than (mistake – town listed twice)? Man…..that’s gotta sting.


March 28th, 2011
8:44 am

I guess that means Tech resides in the dregs in another category? But still ranks first in violent crimes committed against the student body!


March 28th, 2011
8:54 am

BG,…did you go to UGA b/c its very clear what the point of this article is…


March 28th, 2011
8:54 am

Leeeeeeeroy Jenkins!


March 28th, 2011
8:55 am

Athens is more economically and racially diverse than most of these other cities as well. Not a fan of UGA, but it seems a bit unfair to categorize UGA as somehow inferior based on these statistics.


March 28th, 2011
9:01 am

First SEC school at #17? No shocker there at all


March 28th, 2011
9:04 am

What did happen to the big ATL? Emory; Tech; Ga State; Mercer; Clark; Spelman; etc.


March 28th, 2011
9:06 am

Hmm, the word insignificant comes to mine. What’s the p value of this study?


March 28th, 2011
9:07 am

Actually, considering the demographics, I am impressed Athens made such a list. I would agree with Pillsbury above. For better or worse, there is much more to Athens than UGA (city has 120K population). This will be reflected in any survey that relies on stats.


March 28th, 2011
9:08 am

And we have a better football program! War Eagle!


March 28th, 2011
9:08 am

I wonder how many “college towns” there are in the country. Having two in the top twenty-five may be pretty darn good.


March 28th, 2011
9:11 am

23rd ain’t bad. But below Auburn? Say it ain’t so! I’m sure it’s number one in the minds and hearts of many graduates. Ahead of South Bend seems rather remarkable.


March 28th, 2011
9:11 am

Looks like this blog is going to degrade into another sports/football smackdown. Go Hilltoppers!

AU Tigress

March 28th, 2011
9:12 am

It’s good to see 3 SEC schools in the list. Oh, and War Damn Eagle!


March 28th, 2011
9:15 am

Congrats to the Kentucky Wildcats for holding up the conference. Lexington ain’t too bad a place, either.

George P Burdell

March 28th, 2011
9:26 am

This is another silly example of reporting “study” results without paying attention to the criteria or who did the study. Is the “Daily Beast” an authoritative source for this type of information? NO!!!!
Criteria: libraries per capita? HA HA HA HA, laughable.
In case you haven’t noticed, this is the digital age where the internet is far more useful for accessing books and information. In fact, if you go to any local library, its main source for research is the internet.
This study (and article) is a waste of time.
As a GT grad, I do not have a great love for Athens; but please, at least apply some common sense.


March 28th, 2011
9:35 am

A GT grad with a weird sense of humor.

Duh, wouldn’t that mean there were more internet research opportunities in towns with more libraries?

The Original WDE

March 28th, 2011
9:38 am

Not hard to imagine when most people think of two things when they hear “Athens”:

1) Greasy dreadlocked bozos wearing greatful dead t-shirts and smoking weed
2) Your tailgate areas being covered in absolute filth


March 28th, 2011
9:39 am

jd & Blah – Atlanta is not a town. Having grown up in a college town (that is not on this list), the dynamics can be rather interesting with liberal college professors mixing with local business people. The racial divide is often much greater than in large urban areas like Atlanta.

ATLDawg, ya dig?

March 28th, 2011
9:44 am

This reminds me of another study taht went around, the country’s “smartest cities.” It had Raleigh ranked ahead of SF, NYC or ATL because it used criteria like “non-ficition books checked out at local raleigh” and post-grad degrees. These stats favor left-brain studies, which feature typically keep kids in the academic pipeline for a longer time, acquiring multiple degrees, over right-brain, liberal arts studies that put kids into the market immediately or at least into law school. So a town like Athens, with a renowned arts culture and thriving business community wouldn’t rank as high…but heavy ag-science schools like Auburn or Texas A&M would. Not a value judgment here about engineers v. writers or enterpenuers, just making a general observation about these rankings.


March 28th, 2011
9:46 am

As a financial services professional with multiple degrees, including an MBA, I can assure anyone that there is absolutely nothing valid about this “study.” The term “smartest” infers a measure of intelligence, which cannot be in any way gauged by the number of college degrees (much less an average of the populace). Likewise, the median scores on two parts of an entrance exam is not a valid indicator. Even if they were, not everyone in the population even takes the test so the results can’t be extrapolated across the population. Lastly, “libraries per capita” is about as useless a stat as one could find. If they were trying for a legitimate measure of “smartest”, they failed on every single level. Hopefully, this wasn’t really a good faith attempt on their part, but just a conversation starter.

ATLDawg, ya dig?

March 28th, 2011
9:46 am

Sorry, I’m in a hurry this morning. I just noticed about 6 typos in my entry, to save you the trouble of writing a “you can’t spell entrepreneur, you went to UGA!” post.

Outside Observer

March 28th, 2011
9:56 am

It seems to me ATL didn’t make the list as it is a list of college towns only, not large towns with colleges in them. The colleges make the town, otherwise they would all be pastures or some other huge, empty plots of land. The only major city on here is Madison, Wisconsin and even though it is a state capital, not sure if it really qualifies as a major city.

hey hey

March 28th, 2011
9:56 am

War Eagle!!!

no way...nice try though

March 28th, 2011
9:57 am

Even if the “town” of Auburn only consisted of the campus, I still wouldn’t believe they made this list legitimately. When you throw in the surrounding area that makes up the actual city itself, there’s no way in heyull they make it.

left brain/right brain

March 28th, 2011
10:01 am


I disagree with your opinion that right brain areas of study put people in the workplace quickly and left brain areas of study keep them in academia longer. I think it’s the other way around.

Fellow ATL Dawg

think about the trees!

March 28th, 2011
10:04 am

Hey, you’ve got to have some smarts in order to get most people to believe your story about trees on your campus being poisoned.

size matters

March 28th, 2011
10:04 am

athens and clarke county have a much larger population than auburn and gainesville. much of it is spin off from atlanta rather than graduates sticking around. i would be interested to see how the average scores stacked without the other seemingly irrelevant criteria. the library part seems pretty stupid.
seems like very unscientific approach to put together a list that will in turn generate traffic to a website.


March 28th, 2011
10:08 am

Who mentions their MBA as a qualification on understanding a demographics study? I have an MBA too and I think I learned more about demographics and the ability to skew studies/surveys/polls in HS. Please don’t be one of those people that puts MBA after their name (ie. Joe Smith, MBA). I think it minimizes the value for the rest of us.

This study is crap given it tells us only that the smaller the town and the bigger the school, the “smarter” it is according to their metrics of degrees per capita. Given a library can be 5 books + a computer or a Wal-Mart sized repository of every written word known to man, it’s hardly scientifici. It’s giving us that ever so hard to tease out correlation between the # of college students and the # of people needed to teach/administrate/perform research. If nothing else, it shows that the economy of these top college towns aren’t diversified and entirely focused on academic support jobs.

I went to one of the schools in the top 5 towns and can safely say that it was an area entirely focused on the school. The entire economy was driven by students, the research professors brought in, and some small businesses started by students that graduated but decided not to leave. If the school’s police chief is an alum, then yes the town is “smarter” on the aggregate but that has no bearing on the ability of the town to support business.


March 28th, 2011
10:19 am

I just can’t believe Tuscalooser’s not in the top 25. Has to be a conspiracy.


March 28th, 2011
10:24 am

Their criteria doesn’t state the geography they reviewed (other than size). Everyone knows a majority of the educated people live outside of the small county that is Clarke.


March 28th, 2011
11:20 am

The survey is essentially meaningless. It is intended to sensationalize more than anything else. Here are some relevant facts regarding UGA’s location.

1) Athens-Clarke County is the smallest county in Georgia
2) Athens-Clarke County has the third highest poverty rate in the U.S. for counties with populations from 60,000-250,000, as it has a plethora of social service providers serving this population for North Georgia (it attracts a lot of people in need, which can be a good thing or less than good thing)
3) Most graduates of UGA leave to other destinations, like Atlanta or other places, but are strongly committed to their alma mater
4) Athens has no major industries art this for professionals to stay

All of the above make it challenging to compete with towns like Chapel Hill, Berekely, Charlottesville, etc. who also have established Engineering Schools, Medical Schools, etc. However, things are changing for UGA and it is moving forward, which will be a benefit for everyone who lives here and for Georgia.

Another Dawg

March 28th, 2011
1:22 pm

The headline might as well be “List has foolish criteria, produces meaningless results.”

How does having a large population of college graduates sticking around in a college town somehow translate into a good thing? The “smartest” college towns would obviously be the ones that host the best universities, which in turn recruit the smartest students and brightest faculty. If there are really any other factors that would sway a town more than the strength of its resident college’s students and faculty, then it’s, by definition, not a college town.

And libraries per capita? Does that mean Auburn actually got credit for the depth of its coloring book catalog?


March 28th, 2011
1:38 pm

Don’t be so nit-picking, folks. Take it for what it was identified as.


March 28th, 2011
4:52 pm

There is not a snowball’s chance in hell that Auburn has smarter students than UGA. The Athens Tech / Gainesville State (Athens) people must be bringing down the average for Athens…

martie 13

March 29th, 2011
8:58 am

This is NOT a ranking of universities or the undergrads who attend these institutions PEOPLE. Read the article. It’s a ranking of the people who reside in those college towns. College towns have always been known to have the best education because of the resources brought to the area. They are known for having great elementary, middle schools and high schools because of educators at the main university. Auburn, AL has been known for this. Auburn Middle and High School are nationally regarded as some of the best. War Eagle. Atlanta native/Auburn Alum