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Report: Chicago ranks among top 10 college destinations

Published: Monday, Dec. 23, 2013 12:02 p.m. CST

By Sally Deneen

If you're college hunting, a report suggests the best place may be close to home. Chicagoland ranks 10th among the nation's top 15 major metro areas that provide an enriching college experience, according to the American Institute for Economic Research.

Entrepreneurial activity – providing professional opportunity – is the top-rated factor among metro Chicago's attributes, the report shows. That's followed by two quality-of-life issues – affordable rent in the city and environs for an average two-bedroom place ($966, it states) and accessibility by public transit, cycling or walking. Student diversity and degree attainment rank next highest among factors. Among the metro area's 25- to 34-year-olds, four out of 10 have a bachelor's degree or higher.

"The 'college experience' is about more than simply attending a top-notch university," states the independent research institute, whose list included some of more than two dozen area colleges and universities, including Chicago State University, DePaul, Dominican, Illinois Institute of Technology, Northwestern University and University of Chicago.
Location also is key.

"The people students meet, the places they go, and the jobs they may hold are essential supplements to formal education," the institute suggests.

New York ranks No. 1, followed by Boston and Washington, D.C., among major metro areas in the College Destinations Index. Among small metros, Boulder, Colo., tops the list, followed by Ann Arbor, Mich. Among mid-sized metros, San Jose, Calif., snagged top honors, trailed by Austin and Pittsburgh. Among college towns, Ithaca, N.Y., places first, with Ames, Iowa, second.

So, how does all of this square with U.S. News & World Report's controversial but influential Best College rankings? The Chicago area still fares well.

University of Chicago ties with Stanford as 5th in the nation among best colleges and rates 13th among "best value" schools. Northwestern ranks 12th among best colleges and 21st for best value. On Forbes' Top Colleges list, University of Chicago ranks 14th, Northwestern 17th, Wheaton College 98th, Illinois Institute of Technology 228th and Loyola University Chicago 298th.

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