These Utah college towns ranked high for affordability (and low for quality of life)

People walk on the Southern Utah University campus in Cedar City on April 7, 2021. Southern Utah University students apparently have something to celebrate: they're living in the most affordable college town in America.

People walk on the Southern Utah University campus in Cedar City on April 7, 2021. Southern Utah University students apparently have something to celebrate: they're living in the most affordable college town in America. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

CEDAR CITY — Southern Utah University students apparently have something to celebrate: They're living in the most affordable college town in America.

That's according to a new list by Clever Real Estate, which ranked Cedar City No. 1 in a list of 30 most affordable college towns.

And Provo — home of Brigham Young University and close to Orem's Utah Valley University — ranks close behind in the No. 4 slot.

But don't celebrate too hard, because apparently those same areas rank low for quality of life, according to the same list.

Affordable college towns

Clever Real Estate focused on three factors to rank the college towns' affordability: median student loan debt, annual net cost (tuition minus average scholarships, student aid and grants), and median monthly rents for a one-bedroom apartment near campus.

The site found students in Cedar City graduate with the least amount of student loan debt, a median of $7,623, and pay almost the least on rent, a median of $550 a month. Cedar City's annual net cost for education averaged $14,285.

For rent, three other cities ranked lower in median rent cost but had higher net costs or student loan debt: Rolla, Missouri, at $450 a month; Ruston, Louisiana, at $515 a month; and Moscow, Idaho at $525 a month.

Behind Cedar City, Provo falls under Las Cruces, New Mexico, and Hammond, Louisiana, as the fourth most affordable college town, with a median monthly rent of $895, a net cost of $13,322, and median student loan debt of $8,750.

Here's how the top 10 affordable college towns broke out in the Clever Real Estate rankings:

  1. Cedar City, Utah: $550 for rent, $14,285 in net cost, and $7,623 in student loan debt.
  2. Las Cruces, New Mexico: $695 for rent, $8,659 in net cost, and $10,830 in student debt.
  3. Hammond, Louisiana: $625 for rent, $12,171 in net cost, and $11,000 in student debt.
  4. Provo, Utah: $895 for rent, $13,322 in net cost, and $8,750 in student debt.
  5. Laramie, Wyoming: $663 for rent, $12,159 in net cost, and $12,003 in student debt.
  6. Ruston, Louisiana: $515 for rent, $12,084 in net cost, and $14,080 in student debt.
  7. Terre Haute, Indiana: $575 for rent, $13,896 in net cost, and $12,500 in student debt.
  8. Kirksville, Missouri: $550 for rent, $12,462 in net cost, and $13,986 in student debt.
  9. Gainesville, Florida: $950 for rent, $6,302 in net cost, and $14,831 in student debt.
  10. Cookeville, Tennessee: $613 for rent, $15,929 in net cost, and $11,616 in student debt.

Topping the list of least affordable college towns is Manhattan, New York with a monthly rent cost of $3,516, a net cost of $28,697, and median student loan debt of $16,301. Lewisburg, Pennsylvania ranked No. 2 most expensive, with $625 for rent, $42,502 in net cost, and $22,269 in student debt. Cleveland, Ohio ranked No. 3 most expensive, with $1,075 in rent, $35,428 in net cost, and $21,725 in student loan debt.

Low quality of life

While Cedar City and Provo ranked high for affordability, they also ranked high in a list of 30 college towns with "worst quality of life."

Clever Real Estate looked at several factors to determine quality of life scores, measuring "how easy it is to get around, how the student body compares to the local population, and how many sports, restaurants, and entertainment options there are.

The site scored "walkability" and "bikeability" near universities, calculated the number of arts, entertainment and recreation establishments per 100,000 residents, calculated the number of restaurants per 100,000 residents, factored whether the college is in a Power 5 athletic conference, and compared the ratio of students to the areas' general populations.

Here's are the top 10 college towns with "worst quality of life," according to the site:

  1. Long Beach, California
  2. Fullerton, California
  3. Ruston, Louisiana
  4. Kirksville, Missouri
  5. Stony Brook, New York
  6. Medford, Massachusetts
  7. Richardson, Texas
  8. Provo, Utah
  9. Cedar City, Utah
  10. Cedar Falls, Iowa

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Katie McKellar

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