Identifying College Towns

September 21, 2021

In our previous installment on insights from Census 2020 we talked about how Covid-19 has walloped certain parts of the country especially hard. But today, we want to draw your attention to a more carefree time in our lives. 

We all know where we went to college, and which are the “college towns” in our neck of the woods. But can college towns be identified systematically? How does a town become a college town? The easiest definition would be a place or a county with a disproportionately huge population of college-going residents between the ages of 17 and 22. However, the Redistricting Data does not release age information. What it does tell us is the number of residents at geographic scale living in student housing. With this information, we can then identify towns with a high proportion of its population living within such housing types. 

At the same time, we can also harness the other datasets indexed within Fidap to give us a more comprehensive overview of such towns. We can use the OpenStreetMaps dataset to count the number of traditional four-year universities, liberal arts colleges, and community colleges within a specific geographic boundary, in this case, counties. From this query, we know that the following counties play host to a significant student population where more than 10% of the population lives in student housing.

The query on Fidap that joins together census and OpenStreetMaps data

This excludes students who live off-campus in privately-rented housing units.  

Counties with highest percentage of population living in student housing

Unsurprisingly all of these counties play host to at least 1 to 2 colleges, thus accounting for such a high proportion of students living in student housing. 

Number of colleges in each identified county

Wes is a data analyst whose dream is to visit all 423 sites in the National Park System.

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