50 Great Affordable College Towns in the U.S.

By Albert Fontenot

Badge - Great Value CollegesThere is an undeniable vibrance, charm, and romance about a great college town. In very practical terms, a local community that caters to the college population can have significant benefits for students – culturally, socially, and economically. For the value-conscious who want to experience this fully, we’re pleased to present this list of 50 great affordable college towns.

To compile this list, we selected the 50 college towns with the best cost-of-living index scores as published by the Council for Community and Economic Research. The cost-of-living index considers such factors as grocery items, housing, utilities, transportation, and health care. Our definition of “college town” is borrowed from Wikipedia.

50. Austin, Texas

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Average Cost for a One-Bedroom Apartment: $992
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 95.5

Not only is Austin a beautiful and culturally-diverse city, it is also a good destination for high-paying employment. Forbes ranked  Austin first among all large cities in the United States for job prospects in 2012, and also rated it near the top of their “Best Places for Business and Careers” in 2013 (number 14).

Academically, the University of Texas at Austin is ranked as one of the best universities in the world – ranking highly with US News & World Report (67th), the Economist (49th), Times Higher Education (25th), Human Resources & Labor Review (42nd), and the Shanghai Jiao Tong University (35th) – leading many to call UTA a “Public Ivy.”

Colleges: The University of Texas at Austin, St. Edwards University, and Huston-Tillotson University

49. Manhattan, Kansas

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Average Cost for a One- Bedroom Apartment: $635
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 95.0

The general consensus is that the “little apple,” which has long held “All-American City” status, is a very pleasant place to live, ranking highly across the board. In 2007, both Money magazine and CNN listed Manhattan as one of the “10 Best Places to Retire Young in America,” while in 2007, the city was voted #1 by Forbes among the “Best Small Communities for a Business and a Career.”

Kansas State University holds the distinction of having the most combined total Goldwater, Truman, Marshall, Udall, and Rhodes scholars than any other public university.

College: Kansas State University

48. Blacksburg, Virginia

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Average Cost for a One-Bedroom Apartment: $669
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 95.0

In 2011, Southern Living magazine named Blacksburg “the best college town in the South.” That same year, BusinessWeek magazine called the town the “best place in the US to raise kids.”

College: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, also known as Virginia Tech

47. San Marcos, Texas

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Average Cost for a One-Bedroom Apartment: $749
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 94.8

According to the United States Census Bureau, San Marcos is the fastest-growing city in the country. It was also ranked by Business Insider magazine as one of the top “10 Most Exciting Small Cities in America.”

College: Texas State University

46. Tuscaloosa, Alabama

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Average Cost for a One-Bedroom Apartment: $687
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 94.6

In 2011, the US Conference of Mayors named Tuscaloosa “the Most Livable City in America.” According to America’s Promise Alliance, the town is one of the “100 Best Communities for Young People.”

Colleges: The University of Alabama, Stillman College, and Shelton State

45. Lawrence, Kansas

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Average Cost for a One-Bedroom Apartment: $605
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 94.6

Rolling Stone magazine has called Lawrence “one of the best lil’ college towns” in the country. According to the New York Times, Lawrence has “the most vital music scene between Chicago and Denver.”

Colleges: The University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University

44. Norman, Oklahoma

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Average Cost for a One-Bedroom Apartment: $549
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 94.4

According to CNN’s Money Magazine in 2008, Norman is the sixth-best small city in the country in which to live. During football season, it is not unusual for 80,000 people to attend the games.

College: The University of Oklahoma

43. Findlay, Ohio

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Average Cost for a One Bedroom Apartment: $672
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 94.3

On two different occasions, in 2005 and again in 2007, Findlay was named as one of the “Top 100 Communities for Young People” in the country by America’s Promise Alliance. In 2011, Blanchard Valley Hospital in Findlay was named among the top hospitals in the entire United States.

College: The University of Findlay

42. Valdosta, Georgia

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Average Cost for a One-Bedroom Apartment: $465
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 94.1

Valdosta high school has the winningest football program in the United States. According to Forbes magazine, Valdosta is one of the “Best Places for Small Businesses and Careers.”

College: Valdosta State University

41. Lexington, Virginia

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Average Cost for a One-Bedroom Apartment: $749
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 93.7

The gravesites of Civil War generals Robert E Lee and Stonewall Jackson are here in Lexington. The area is very popular with filmmakers. At least seven major motion pictures have been filmed here.

Colleges: Washington and Lee University and the Virginia Military Institute

40. Eau Claire, Wisconsin

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Average Cost for a One-Bedroom Apartment: $889
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 93.7

According to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Eau Claire is one of the “10 Best Cities for Cheapskates.” The city is also the “Radish Capital of the World.”

College: The University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire

39. Savannah, Georgia

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Average Cost for a One-Bedroom Apartment: $914
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 93.5

Savannah is the oldest city in the state of Georgia, originally founded in 1733. Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts was born in Savannah.

Colleges: Armstrong Atlantic State University, Savannah State University, and the Savannah College of Art and Design

38. Indiana, Pennsylvania

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Average Cost for a One-Bedroom Apartment: $561
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 93.3

Because of the large number of Christmas tree farms there, the Indiana area is known as “the Christmas Tree Capital of the World.” As is fitting, the star of “It’s a Wonderful Life,”Jimmy Stewart, was born here.

College: Indiana University of Pennsylvania

37. Appleton, Wisconsin

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Average Cost for a One-Bedroom Apartment: $594
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 93.3

Lawrence University was only the second coed institution of higher learning in the country. In 2011, Newsweek magazine ranked Lawrence University as one of the top 20 most demanding colleges in the country.

College: Lawrence University

36. Mankato, Minnesota

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Average Cost for a One-Bedroom Apartment: $717
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 93.0

The NFL’s Minnesota Vikings have their summer training camp at Minnesota State University, Mankato. MNSU is the first university in the country to offer a Fine Arts degree in Forensics.

Colleges: Minnesota State University at Mankato and Bethany Lutheran College

35. Johnstown, Pennsylvania

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Average Cost for a One-Bedroom Apartment: $739
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 92.9

According to US News and World Report, the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown is ranked as the eighth best public institution in the northern part of the United States. The city of Johnstown is very prominent in popular culture, mentioned in many books and movies, and in Bruce Springsteen’s song, “the River.”

College: The University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

34. Lexington, Kentucky

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $641
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 92.8

Almost 40% of Lexington residents have a college degree, ranking the city 10th in the country in that category. The University of Kentucky basketball team plays in Rupp Arena, the largest basketball facility in the world.

College: The University of Kentucky

33. Monroe, Louisiana

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $582
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 92.7

The University of Louisiana at Monroe offers a degree in atmospheric sciences, the only such program in either Louisiana or Arkansas. Every year during the last week of June, Monroe hosts the Miss Louisiana beauty pageant.

College: The University of Louisiana at Monroe

32. Fargo, North Dakota

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $635
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 92.7

Forbes.com has included Fargo in an article called “Top College Towns for Jobs,” ranking it at number five. North Dakota State University is the only college in North Dakota to be classified as a Research University by the Carnegie Commission.

College: North Dakota State University

31. Nacogdoches, Texas

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $552
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 92.5

At one time or another, the city of Nacogdoches has flown under nine different flags. Nacogdoches is also the site of the first oil well in operation in Texas.

College: Steven F. Austin University

30. Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $603
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 92.4

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is the largest employer in the area, with over 13,000 employees. According to U.S. News & World Report, the facility is ranked among the best hospitals in the country in 12 separate areas, including cancer, heart surgery, cardiology, diabetes, and several others. Not surprisingly, in 2012, CBS Money Watch judged that Winston-Salem was one of the 10 best places to retire in the United States.

Colleges: Wake Forest University, Salem College, Winston-Salem State University, and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts

29. Houston, Texas

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $969
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 92.2

Houston is the fourth-largest city in the country, and only New York City is home to more Fortune 500 companies. Texas Medical Center is the largest in the world, containing 54 separate medical institutions, all of them not-for-profit.

Colleges: Houston Baptist University, the University of Houston, and Rice University

28. Fayetteville, Arkansas

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $595
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 92.1

Fayetteville is a very educated city – over 50% of residents over the age of 25 have at least an Associate’s degree. In 2012, Forbes magazine ranked Fayetteville as one of the top 15 “Best Places for Businesses and Careers.”

College: University of Arkansas

27. Erie, Pennsylvania

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Average Cost of One-Bedroom Apartment: $1017
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 92.1

For the past six years, Gannon University was ranked by U.S. News & World Report as a Top Tier Master’s University. More than ten percent of all plastics used in the United States are manufactured in Erie.

Colleges: Gannon University, Mercyhurst University, and Penn State Erie

26. Columbus, Ohio

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $675
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 92.0

Columbus has a very diverse economy, with four corporations in the Fortune 500. Many experts seem to agree that Columbus has a bright business future. In 2008, Forbes listed Columbus as the number one up-and-coming tech city and in 2013, it awarded the city an “A” rating as a top business city, while fDi Magazine had it at #3 for “US cities of the future.”

College: Ohio State University

25. South Bend, Indiana

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $586
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 91.9

Forbes.com, U.S. News & World Report, ARCHITECT magazine, and the Washington Monthly all ranked Notre Dame as one of the top 20 universities in the country. In fact, their business school was ranked number one in the nation by BusinessWeek.

College: University of Notre Dame

24. Hattiesburg, Mississippi

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $698
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 91.9

In 2011, Hattiesburg was named one of “America’s Great Places,” according to the American Planning Association. The University of Southern Mississippi has a very active British Program, and every year sends 200 students to live and study in London.

College: The University of Southern Mississippi

23. Columbia, Missouri

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $656
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 91.8

The University of Missouri is an extremely diverse campus, and is one of only six public institutions to offer schools for law, medicine, and veterinary medicine on the same campus. Mizzou is the largest employer in the city, providing more than twice as many jobs as any other source.

Colleges: The University of Missouri, Stephens College, and Columbia College

22. Cedar Falls, Iowa

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $759
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 91.7

US News & World Report consistently ranks the University of Northern Iowa second among Midwest colleges, doing so for twelve consecutive years. Likewise, according to the Princeton Review, UNI is consistently labeled as a “Best in the Midwest.”

College: University of Northern Iowa

21. Edmond, Oklahoma

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $672
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 91.6

In 2007, Relocate America listed Edmond as one of the “Top 100 Places to Live.” In 2011, CNBC rated Edmond #1 on its list of “Perfect Suburbs.”

Colleges: University of Central Oklahoma and Oklahoma Christian University

20. Kalamazoo, Michigan

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $586
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 91.2

In 2012, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance ranked Kalamazoo #4 of the “10 Best Cities for Cheapskates.” Music lovers will appreciate the fact that Kalamazoo was the original home of Gibson guitars, and although those headquarters have relocated, Kalamazoo is still the home of Heritage guitars.

Colleges: Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo College

19. Muncie, Indiana

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $486
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 91.0

In 2007, real estate company Coldwell Banker determined that Muncie was the most affordable college town in the United States. In 2011, US News and World Report ranked Ball State #8 in their list of “up and coming” colleges.

College: Ball State University

18. Richmond, Indiana

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Average Cost of a One Bedroom Apartment: $389
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 90.8

On two separate occasions, most recently in 2009, Richmond has won the prestigious All-American City award. Earlham College has produced two Nobel Prize laureates in chemistry, and was featured in the book Colleges That Change Lives.

College: Earlham College

17. Bowling Green, Kentucky

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $561
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 90.7

In 2009, Western Kentucky University was ranked number 10 among southern public Master’s universities in the “America’s Best Colleges” guide. In 2014, Forbes magazine listed Bowling Green as one of the “25 Best Places to Retire” in the nation.

College: Western Kentucky University

16. Florence, Alabama

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $391
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 90.2

Florence is where WC Handy was born, known as “the Father of the Blues.” In 2008, US News and World Report listed the University of North Alabama as a “top tier university” in their America’s Best Colleges.

College: University of North Alabama

15. Stillwater, Oklahoma

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $544
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 90.1

In 2010, CNN Money Magazine listed Stillwater as one of the top 100 places to live in the United States. Eskimo Joe’s, the iconic restaurant and bar, has been hailed in Sports Illustrated, Playboy, and the Sporting News as one of the best college sports bars in the country.

College: Oklahoma State University

14. Knoxville, Tennessee

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $813
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 89.4

In 2011, Kiplinger listed Knoxville as one of its “Best Value Cities,” coming in at number five. Forbes Magazine similarly ranked Knoxville in the top five for “Businesses and Careers.”

College: University of Tennessee

13. Lubbock, Texas

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $626
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 89.1

According to CNNMoney.com, Lubbock is one of the best places in the United States to start a small business, coming in 12th. The buildings on the campus of Texas Tech University are done in a style reminiscent of the Spanish Renaissance, and they have been called “the most beautiful west of the Mississippi until you get to Stanford,” according to a famous author James Michener.

Colleges: Texas Tech University and Lubbock Christian University

12. Waco, Texas

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $759
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 88.9

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni conducted a study in 2012, assigning a letter grade to over 1000 universities, based on how they treat “core” academic subjects, and Baylor was one of only 21 institutions to earn an “A.” Baylor University was originally founded in 1845, making it the oldest college or university in the state of Texas.

College: Baylor University

11. Nashville, Tennessee

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $982
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 88.9

According to Forbes in 2013, Nashville ranks #5 among the “Best Places for Businesses and Careers.” Vanderbilt Universityhas one of the most selective programs in the United States, accepting less than 12% of applicants who apply to the undergraduate program.

Colleges: Vanderbilt University, Belmont University, Tennessee State University, Lipscomb University, Fisk University, Aquinas College, and Trevecca Nazarene University.

10. Jonesboro, Arkansas

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $660
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 88 .9

Incoming freshmen to Arkansas State University need to be very well prepared academically, because in 2013, their average GPA from high school was 3.44, while their average AC T score was over 23. The Greek life at Arkansas State University is very active, and there are more than 25 fraternity or sorority chapters in existence.

College: Arkansas State University

9. Cedar City, Utah

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $900
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 88.7

Southern Utah University is an extremely attractive blend of affordability and academic excellence, concurrently ranking with The Princeton Review as a “Best Value College” and a “Regional Best College.” While placing seven times on Consumer Digest’s list for the best universities in the western USA, it is also twice been placed on the list of “America’s 100 Best College Buys.”

College: Southern Utah University

8. Ashland, Ohio

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $515
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 88.5

There is something refreshing about a small town that advertises itself as “The World Headquarters of Nice People.” According to a 2012 report by U.S. News & World Report, Ashland University is a top 15 “over-performing” college with an actual academic performance that is much higher than its peer assessments would suggest.

College: Ashland University

7. Tulsa, Oklahoma

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $602
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 88.4

Three different entities – Forbes, Partners for Livable Communities, and Relocate America- have called Tulsa one of the most livable large cities in the United States. Tulsa was also determined to be one of the “top 50 best cities” in the country by BusinessWeek in 2012.

College: The University of Tulsa, Oral Roberts University

6. Omaha, Nebraska

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $715
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 88.3

Omaha has a very diverse economy, and in 2009, Forbes called Omaha the “Best Bang for Your Buck City.” This diversity and innovation is long-standing, for in 2001, Newsweek called Omaha a top 10 “high-tech haven,”and in 2013, Omaha was named among Forbes “Best Places for Business and Careers.”

Colleges: University of Nebraska at Omaha, Creighton University, College of St. Mary, Grace University, and Metropolitan Community College

5. Murfreesboro, Tennessee

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $664
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 88.2

In a period of only 10 years (2000 – 2010), Murfreesboro saw an amazing population boom of almost 60%, without losing those qualities that made it such a special place to live.  In 2006, Money magazine rated Murfreesboro as the 84th best place to live in the United States, out of a possible 725 cities having a population of over 50,000 residents. Similarly, even with a student enrollment of over 24,000, Middle Tennessee State University was ranked by Forbes magazine as a “top 100″ public institution in 2009.

College: Middle Tennessee State University

4. Memphis, Tennessee

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $635
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 88.2

In 2013, Memphis was ranked by Forbes magazine as one of the “top 15″ cities in the United States. Students wishing to study pharmacology would do well to attend the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, which in 2010 was ranked 16th in the country by US News and World Report.

Colleges: University of Tennessee Health Science Center and the University of Memphis

3. Louisville, Kentucky

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $664
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 87.7

Louisville has a unique geographical location that it makes it an ideal relocation or college city for many individuals, because it is possible to drive from Louisville to approximately 60% of all the cities in the continental United States within one day.

The University of Louisville has a long history of innovation – the first emergency room (1911), auto transfusion (1935), the first Pap smear (1970), first hand transplant (1999), and the first self-contained artificial heart transplant (2001).

College: The University of Louisville

2. Conway, Arkansas

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $522
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 86.6

By almost any yardstick, Conway is rated to be a very desirable destination: 2011 – Best Value for a City (Kiplinger: 7th);  2011 – 14th Best City for Young Professionals (Forbes); 2011 and 2012 – 25 Best Places to Retire (CNN Money);  2011 – 14th Cheapest Place to Live (Forbes);  2012 – Top 10 Cheapest Cities In the Country (Yahoo!); and much more.

The colleges here are likewise very distinguished. Hendrix College was named as one of “America’s Best Colleges” by Forbes in 2010,  listed as a “Best Buy College” (one of only 44) by the Fiske Guide to Colleges in 2010, and rated as one of the “Top 50 Schools That Produce Science PhD’s” by CBSMoneyWatch.com. Meanwhile the University of Central Arkansas was judged by US News & World Report to be one of the top “academically excellent” schools in the South (2006) and was mentioned in their America’s Best Colleges report in 2009, while former Secretary of Education Terrell Bear was quoted as saying that UCA was “an Ivy League education at a bargain basement price.”

Colleges: University of Central Arkansas, Hendrix College, and Central Baptist University

1. Cookeville, Tennessee

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Average Cost of a One-Bedroom Apartment: $634
Cost-Of-Living Index Score: 85.7

It would be hard to find a better college education in the South than the one you would receive at Tennessee Technological University.  The U.S. News & World Report’s special “America’s Best Colleges” ranked TTU in the “Top 8 Public Schools in the South” every year from 2007- 2012, and they were mentioned as a “Top Public School in the South” in 2002, 2003, 2005, and 2006. The Princeton Review called the school a “Best College Value” in 2006 and 2007.

The small town of Cookeville, population approximately 30,000, is an important economic contributing hub for the area, creating a micropolitan area that influences the businesses and economies of three counties.

College: Tennessee Technological University