College towns stay strong as economy tumbles


Employment woes have been pretty widespread during this recession, but there's one area that has been relatively immune no matter what part of the country you're in: college towns.

The Wall Street Journal reports (subscription required) that "Morgantown, W.Va., home to West Virginia University, has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the U.S. -- just 3.9% -- and the university itself has about 260 job openings, from nurses to professors to programmers."

Of the six metropolitan areas sporting sub-4% unemployment in January, an astounding three were college towns. Morganton was number six and Ames, Iowa, home of Iowa State University and Logan, Utah, home of Utah State University were numbers two and three, respectively.

The reasons are two-fold: College towns tend to have high concentrations of educated people who are highly employable and large public universities don't go out of business the way that companies do. Sure, when state funding gets cut they might freeze hiring or lay off some people but for the most part, they are relatively immune to many of the factors that effect national employment trends.

For now, that's good news for property owners in college towns. Long-term, I think it's a good reason to consider buying real estate in college towns. Dual forces of the increasing necessity of a college degree and retiring baby boomers seeking affordable locations with strong cultural and intellectual life should allow college towns to continue to outperform the broader market.