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Cleveland among best college cities

By Kelsey Smith

Oct. 11, 2012

The American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) recently released their College Destination Index of the top 75 college cities and towns for 2012-13, and, for the first time, Cleveland made the list.

Though Cleveland is not really known as a college town, the city ranked 12 out of 75 in the mid-size metro category. Two other Ohio cities, Columbus and Cincinnati, made this list as well, being ranked 11 and 17 respectively.

When creating the list, a dozen factors were considered, including: city accessibility, degree attainment, cost of living, earning potential and unemployment. This data, taken from the most recent figures provided by the Census Bureau, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, among others, offers a glimpse of each city’s overall environment and how it affects students.

“At a time when approximately half of current college graduates are unemployed or underemployed, the pros and cons of a particular college destination should be an important factor in making a college selection,” said Julie Zhu, the AIER research analyst who oversaw compilation of the Index, in a press release.

The index is divided into four categories — major metros, mid-size metros, small metros, and college towns. The groups are formed based on total residential populations, and unlike similar lists like those produced by U.S. News and World Report, the cities are being ranked, not the individual schools.

“The characteristics that make up a great college destination often make a location ideal for business, retirement and tourism. A top AIER College Destinations Index ranking should be just as important to the town or city as it is to the schools located there and the families and students attending or considering them,” said Steven Cunningham, AIER director of research and education.

Since it’s the cities being ranked and not the schools, it is unclear as to whether this index will have any influence on a student’s decision of where to attend college.

“It’s certainly going to help administrators get funds, which will eventually help students,” said Subhra Saha, assistant professor in the Department of Economics at Cleveland State.“But there are a lot of other important factors to think about. You’ve got to think about paying for college, whether you want to be close to home or not, and how safe the city is…and after you’ve done all of that, you possibly look at the rankings,” he added.

Saha’s research focuses on the economic effects of universities and colleges on cities, specifically on what is known as the “spillover effect.” He looks at the science and research within a city and relates that to the number of college graduates living in the area. Based on his research, in addition to the research of others, Saha explains that in cities with higher numbers of scientific innovations and college graduates, there is a better chance of finding a job and earning higher wages over and above the direct effect of individual characteristics, like education and experience.

Though Saha’s research only overlaps the research done in this study slightly, he does believe it could have an effect on the amount of funding the colleges and universities in the Cleveland area receive, but is skeptical as to whether it will impact students’ decisions to come to Cleveland for school, especially considering factors important to students that AIER left out.

“Why didn’t they consider the sports programs?” asked Saha. “I’m surprised by that. I think sports drive a lot of schools. It’s part of the culture of a college town, and literature says sports can be a pretty significant predictor of what happens with college enrollments,” he explained.

Though it is unlikely achieving a place on this index will do much to drive students to Cleveland, experts believe it is a step in the right direction for the city. It will help school presidents and administrators receive more funding, which in turn will help the current students of Cleveland.