Looking for a place to fall in love with during your college years? Many people become so captivated by their college homes that they choose to stay long after the commencement speeches have been delivered. If you’re on the hunt for a place to not only study, but work and play as well, you’ve found the right list. There’s a lot to love about these college towns, and if you’re a conservative, then being amongst like-minded people is an added perk.
Rating and Ranking Methodology
Cost of Living
Cost of living is lower than the national average- 1 point
Cost of living is lower than the state average – 1 point
Unemployment rate is lower than the national average- 1 point
Unemployment rate is lower than the state average- 1 point
Crime rate is lower than the national average- 1 point
Crime rate is lower than the state average- 1 point
1 point for each unique feature that “wowed” us
Great Conservative College Towns Ranked
After reviewing the homes of over 100 conservative colleges in America, our editors have settled on these 30 as the most appealing places to live while working towards a college diploma (and well after!). Note that we have left off the obvious contenders in order to provide the most useful information possible. We list them here according to the ranking and rating methodology above. In cases where two or more towns tied in the number of points awarded, they are listed in reverse alphabetical order.
#30 – St. Paul, Minnesota
Colleges: University of Minnesota, College of St. Catherine, Hamline University, Macalester College, University of St. Thomas (Minnesota), The College of St. Scholastica
St. Paul is second in the U.S. in the number of higher education institutions per capita. It is home to several private and public colleges as well as a handful of post-secondary institutions. The Parks and Recreation Department runs over 1,500 sports teams, 160 parks, and 41 recreation centers. The Xcel Energy Center, a multipurpose entertainment and sports venue, hosts most sporting events, as well as concerts. St. Paul also houses many museums, including the Minnesota Children’s Museum and the Minnesota Museum of American Art. The Saint Paul Winter Carnival is an annual tradition that features ice sculptures, a treasure hunt, and an ice palace.
#29 – Rome, Georgia
Colleges: Berry College, Shorter University
Rome, Georgia is the largest city in Floyd County. Its name was inspired by its location on seven hills cut by a river, similar to the geography of Rome, Italy. The city’s rich history has been preserved through several historic homes and businesses as well as a handful of history museums. Its beautiful and historic scenery has also been the backdrop of scenes in many movies, short films, and television shows. Rome is well known in the region for its medical facilities and partnership with the Northwest Georgia Clinical Campus of The Medical College of Georgia.
#28 – Nashville, Tennessee
Colleges: Vanderbilt University, Belmont University, Tennessee State University, Lipscomb University, Fisk University, Aquinas College, Trevecca Nazarene University
Nashville is the capital of and the second largest city in Tennessee. Nashville is most well known for being a center of the music industry, but it is also a hub for publishing, transportation, banking, and its largest industry, healthcare. Downtown features diverse options for food, entertainment, and cultural attractions. Annual events include the Nashville Film Festival, CMA Music Festival, and Tennessee State Fair. Parks offer activities such as hiking, horse riding, and waterskiing.
#27 – Montevallo, Alabama
Colleges: University of Alabama
Located in Shelby County, Montevallo is the geographical center of the state of Alabama. The Parnell Memorial Library is a traditional public library and a cultural hub. It houses not only books, but also an art gallery and a theatre that hosts musical groups, touring theatre troupes, and public school productions. Orr Park offers two playgrounds, a walking trail, and several sports fields. However, the park is most notable for the whimsical creatures carved into the trees by local artist Tim Tingle.
#26 – Houston, Texas
Colleges: University of Houston, Texas Southern University, Rice University, Houston Baptist University)
Houston is the most populous city in Texas and the fourth most populous city in the nation. It is also considered one of the most diverse cities in America. Houston is recognized internationally for its energy industry, biomedical research, and aeronautics. While it has the fourth tallest skyline in the country and a dense city scape, Houston is not without green space. There are hundreds of parks in the city, as well a zoo and the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center.
#25 – Bolivar, Missouri
Colleges: Southwest Baptist University
Located between Springfield and Kansas City, Bolivar is surrounded by recreational lakes. The town has been named one of the best small towns in America and one of the safest small towns in America. Its location gives residents easy access to attractions in nearby areas. Local attractions are also available, including a history museum, an art museum, golf courses, and lakes. Bolivar maintains a small town atmosphere, and the many annual family events and parades add to its charm.
#24 – Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Colleges: Louisiana State University, Southern University
As the capital of Louisiana, Baton Rouge is the state’s political hub. It is also a major center for industry, medicine, film, and technology in the South. It has a strong arts scene, which is centered downtown in venues such as the LSU Art Gallery and the Baton Rouge Gallery. The city also has specifically designated cultural districts that provide tax incentives to promote cultural growth. Every year, Baton Rouge hosts events including Mardi Gras parades and the Greater Baton Rouge State Fair. It has also hosted the Miss USA Pageant.
#23 – Starkville, Mississippi
Colleges: Mississippi State University
Starkville is home to Mississippi State University, the largest university in the state. The large student body is a major part of Starkville culture and supports the city’s major events. These events include the Cotton District Arts Festival, the Dudy Gras Parade, and Old Main Music Festival. Starkville boasts over 80 places of worship that accommodate almost all religious traditions. This diversity is mostly thanks to the large, diverse student population. The city also offers plenty of recreation opportunities, such as hunting, bird watching, and golf.
#22 – Columbia, South Carolina
Colleges: University of South Carolina
Located close to the geographical center of the state, Columbia is the capital and largest city in South Carolina. Its downtown was recently renovated to make it more appealing to visitors, residents, and businesses. Its older buildings have been repurposed into unique shops, art galleries, and restaurants. Main Street, home to most of Columbia’s businesses, has received special attention. Columbia’s parks offer space for not only outdoor recreation, but also cultural events. One of the city’s greatest assets is the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden. It contains over 2,000 animals, plant collections, and historical ruins, and is one of the most popular attractions in the Southeast.
#21 – Auburn, Alabama
Colleges: Auburn University
Located in Lee County, Auburn is the largest and fastest growing city in eastern Alabama. As a college town, much of Auburn’s culture is tied to the university. In particular, Auburn University football has a major impact on the city’s culture and economy. It’s not unusual for thousands of fans to flood the area on weekends for tailgating. Other major events include concert series held at the Telfair Peet Theatre as well as at least three big theatre productions hosted by the Auburn Area Community Theatre.
#20 – Arkadelphia, Arkansas
Colleges: Henderson State University, Ouachita Baptist University
Arkadelphia is located in Clark County at the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains. The town offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation with the Ouachita National Forest, DeGray Lake Resort State Park, and Arkadelphia Aquatic Park. The Arkadelphia Art Center hosts workshops, productions, and exhibits for several local organizations. Other performances are also held at the universities. People looking for educational fun can visit the Clark County Historical Museum or Reynolds Science Center Planetarium.
#19 – Lock Haven, Pennsylvania
Colleges: Lock Haven University
Situated between the Bald Eagle Creek and West Branch of the Susquehanna River, Lock Haven is the largest municipality in and county seat of Clinton County. It contains beautiful parks and historic buildings. Many of its events, including public concerts and art exhibits, are hosted by Lock Haven University. The city provides regular entertainment in the form of outdoor movies in the park and a summer concert series. One of the most unique features of Lock Haven is the Piper Aviation Museum, which exhibits Piper Aircraft equipment, photos, and documents.
#18 – Grinnell, Iowa
Colleges: Grinnell College
Grinnell, Iowa contains many architectural and cultural landmarks. One of these is the Merchants National Bank, designed by Louis Sullivan. The Grinnell Area Arts Council sponsors many of the city’s creative projects, art classes and camps, plays, and a weekly Music in the Park event. A farmers market runs twice a week during the summer and fall, offering local produce, baked goods, and crafts. Downtown renovations, which began in 2005, have improved the city’s aesthetic and infrastructure, making it more appealing to visitors and residents.
#17 – Grand Junction, Colorado
Colleges: Colorado Mesa University
Nicknamed the “River City” due to its location along the Colorado River, Grand Junction is the most populous city in Western Colorado and a major commercial and transportation hub. It contains several unique cliffs, canyons, and mesas. Its geographical features and 18 Road trail system have attracted mountain bikers from as far away as California. Grand Junction is also located near the Country Jam Ranch, a permanent music festival site that regularly draws in thousands of music fans.
#16 – Dahlonega, Georgia
Colleges: University of North Georgia, State University
Known as the “Gold City” for being the site of the first major American gold rush, Dahlonega is a popular tourist site. It features several vineyards, local festivals, and the historic Dahlonega Square. The square is a particularly popular destination with gift shops, art galleries, and restaurants. Multiple publications have named it one of the best places to retire for its vibrant setting, low cost of living, and education and activities for seniors. One of its most popular festivals is the annual “Bear on the Square” event, featuring bluegrass music and commemorating the time a black bear wandered into the square.
#15 – Charleston, South Carolina
Colleges: College of Charleston, The Citadel, MUSC
Charleston, South Carolina is the oldest city in the state. Much of its history has been preserved through its architecture, with many historical homes and buildings still in good condition. It is also known for its well-mannered population and has been awarded by multiple publications for this quality. Charleston is home to America’s first theatre, and its theatre scene is still active today. It also hosts annual events such as Spoleto Festival USA, the Holiday Festival of Lights, and the Charleston International Film Festival.
#14 – Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Colleges: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Though Chapel Hill has a large population, surprisingly, the city still has a small-town atmosphere. Its annual Festifall street fair provides family entertainment, local crafts, food, and music. Music is a major part of Chapel Hill’s culture, and many notable musicians and composers have begun their careers there. Sports are also part of the city’s culture, specifically the heated rivalry between North Carolina’s four AAC basketball teams. Another interesting feature of Chapel Hill is the Morehead Planetarium, where many astronauts were trained.
#13 – Ashland, Ohio
Colleges: Ashland University
Ashland, Ohio proudly claims to be “The World Headquarters of Nice People.” Its small town atmosphere, large Amish population, and rural location are reminiscent of a simpler time and is a pleasant break from the fast pace of large cities. Historical productions and locations immerse visitors in American history. Popular annual events include the Antique Tractor and Engine Show and the Ashland Balloon Fest. Ashland also offers several sports and recreation opportunities for its active residents.
#12 – Abilene, Texas
Colleges: Abilene Christian University, Hardin-Simmons University, McMurry University
Abilene, Texas is proud of its Western heritage, and it has made this heritage a large part of its culture. This is showcased in its rodeo-themed events, fairs, and historical ranches. However, Abilene’s pride in its past doesn’t impede its progress. It is a regional center for commerce, transportation, education, and distribution. It also has shopping, dining, and cultural opportunities usually only found in larger cities. The Abilene Zoo is one of the most popular attractions, with over 600 animals from around the world.
#11 – Wilmore, Kentucky
Colleges: Asbury University, Asbury Theological Seminary
Located in the “Garden Area” of Central Kentucky, Wilmore is surrounded by natural beauty. It is positioned near the Big Bend of the Kentucky River and the Kentucky Palisades’ beautiful limestone formations. It is best known for its historical buildings and small town charm, and unique nearby attractions that add to this charm. For instance, the Shaker Village gives visitors insight to the lifestyle of the small Shaker community. The High Bridge Park Pavilion is another popular destination, providing a stunning view of the High Bridge of Kentucky and the Kentucky River.
#10 – Wayne, Nebraska
Colleges: Wayne State College
Wayne, Nebraska has many interesting features and attractions. For instance, Garden Perennials gives its guests and customers the opportunity to walk through three acres of flowers and display gardens. The Fred G. Dale Planetarium has weekly shows throughout the year that the public can view. Outdoor recreation is available at parks and walking trails. Fun family events include the annual Wayne Chicken Show, an arts show and festival that includes a parade, games, and chicken-related contests.
#9 – Peoria, Illinois
Colleges: Bradley University
Peoria is the oldest European settlement in Illinois and the largest city along the Illinois River. The downtown area contains many government, corporate, residential, and cultural buildings. The Peoria Park District is the largest park district in Illinois, containing 9,000 acres of parks, golf courses and the Peoria Zoo. Several publications have ranked Peoria highly for its low cost of living, many entertainment opportunities, etiquette, and other positive features. The city also hosts the Heart of Illinois Fair every year, which features contests, rides, food, and concerts.
#8 – Manhattan, Kansas
Colleges: Kansas State University
Best known as the home of Kansas State University, Manhattan has a noticeable college town atmosphere. Most of its culture comes from the university students, with many businesses and activity geared towards the college crowd. One of the most active districts, Aggieville, is both a shopping center and the center of Manhattan’s nightlife. Downtown also contains several shops, restaurants, art galleries, and other daytime points of interest. Events held each year include Fake Patty’s Day, the Country Stampede Music Festival, and Juneteenth Celebration.
#7 – Lubbock, Texas
Colleges: Texas Tech University, Lubbock Christian University
Often called “Hub City,” Lubbock, Texas has become the educational, healthcare, and economic hub of the region. It is also the largest contiguous cotton-growing region in the world. Music, theatres, upscale restaurants, and cultural attractions can be found in the Depo District, an area of Lubbock dedicated to nightlife and entertainment. The city is also home to many unique museums, including the Science Spectrum, National Ranching Heritage Center, Buddy Holly Center, and Silent Wings museum. Its rich history has been preserved in places such as the Canyon Lakes Archeological District and the South Overton Residential Historic District.
#6 – Lexington, Virginia
Colleges: Washington and Lee University, Virginia Military Institute
Lexington, Virginia is surrounded by natural beauty and is full of opportunities for adventurous outdoor activity. Hospitality, small town charm, and local businesses are a major part of Lexington’s culture. This is expressed in its many events and activities such as Fused Glass Play Dates, annual apple butter festivals, farmers markets, and trivia nights. Lexington also contains several historical Civil War sites, mills, trails, and tours for history buffs to explore and enjoy.
#5 – Boiling Springs, North Carolina
Colleges: Gardner-Webb University
Named after the springs that feed the on-campus lake, Boiling Springs is located in the western part of the Charlotte metropolitan area. It is positioned almost perfectly between other major tourist and shopping areas, supplementing its local attractions and facilities. The Christmas Parade and annual Crossroads street Festival are time-honored traditions for the town. The Activities Commission also hosts other family events, including trunk-or-treat and a regular Movie in the Park.
#4 – Upland, Indiana
Colleges: Taylor University
Located between Fort Wayne and Indianapolis, Upland is the proud home of The Pierce Company, Ivanhoes ice cream, and the highly rated Taylor University. Though Upland is a fairly small town, there are still many opportunities for recreation. Several state parks and recreation areas are nearby for outdoor fun, along with local parks, sports fields, golf courses, and playgrounds. The cost of living, crime rate, and unemployment rate are all lower than both the national and state averages.
#3 – Pembroke, North Carolina
Colleges: University of North Carolina at Pembroke
As tribal seat of the state-recognized Lumbee tribe, Pembroke has a rich Native American heritage. The town is described as progressive, but still distinctly southern. The Museum of the Native American Resource Center and the North Carolina Indian Cultural Center contain authentic Native American crafts and artifacts, giving visitors insight into Native American culture and lifestyle. The Lumber River State Park provides scenic views as well as outdoor recreation. A performing arts center hosts several events, including three professional performing arts series.
#2– Spring Arbor, Michigan
Colleges: Spring Arbor University, Jackson College
Spring Arbor is a small, unincorporated community in Jackson County. It is known for its water springs, which form creeks, rivers, and small lakes. Lime Lake County Park offers outdoor recreation opportunities with a trail, playground equipment, a boat launch and a swimming area. The lake was formed by quarrying, leaving behind strange formations that divers enjoy exploring. Spring Arbor has also received awards for its safety and was named the best small town to raise children by Businessweek.
#1 – Stillwater, Oklahoma
Colleges: Oklahoma State University
Stillwater is one of the largest cities in Oklahoma, and it has plenty of opportunities for shopping, recreation, and entertainment. It hosts several annual events such as the Stillwater Arts Festival, Tumbleweed Calf Fry, Special Olympics Oklahoma, and many music festivals. Stillwater is also the home of red dirt music, a unique blend of folk, blues, rock and country. Several history and art museums give visitors a glimpse into the area’s rich history and culture. Parks provide recreational opportunities such as sports fields, biking and walking trails, playgrounds, lakes, and a swimming pool.
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Published April 2016