Failing Grade

2 Texas college towns face extra economic risk due to COVID-19, says study

2 Texas college towns face extra economic risk due to COVID-19

Texas A&M football
College Station relies on Texas A&M students and staff to keep the city running. Facebook/Texas A&M

As colleges struggle with the decision of whether or not to open their campuses for in-person learning this fall, the towns in which they are located are already feeling the strain.

College towns rely on students, teachers, and staff to inject money into their local economies, and even if campuses reopen there may be a lower demand for eating out, attending sports games, and other spending activities.

SmartAsset recently conducted a study of 95 college towns (with populations of 50,000 or more and at least one four-year college or university) to see which might be in the best position to weather the coronavirus crisis this year — and which are in serious trouble.

Sadly, two of the most economically vulnerable can be found in Texas. College Station, home of Texas A&M, is high on the list at No. 2. San Marcos, located about 50 miles north of San Antonio and home to Texas State University, is also on the list, coming in at No. 9. 

To determine its ranking, the finance website looked at six metrics:

  • Students as a percentage of the population
  • College staff as a percentage of workers
  • Concentration of restaurants and bars
  • Concentration of entertainment establishments
  • Concentration of bookstores
  • Concentration of hotels

Each metric was then ranked, with double weight going to the first two and full weight to the remaining four. Then each city's average ranking was used to determine a final score, with the highest (most vulnerable) receiving a 100 and the lowest (most secure) receiving a 0.

Having two Texas towns in the top 10 fits the overall findings, as many Midwestern and Southern college towns are at the top of the list.

No. 2 College Station received a total of 99.81, thanks largely to it having the second-largest college population in the study. In 2018, which is when the Census numbers used are from, more than 44 percent of the city's population was made up of undergraduates at Texas A&M University. Additionally, data shows that the town's economy relies heavily on local restaurants and bars. The area has the 12th-highest concentration of restaurants and bars in the study, at 9.27 percent.

San Marcos ranks in the worst fourth of college towns in terms of vulnerability during COVID-19 for four of the six metrics considered. It has the fourth-highest student population relative to the city's population, 23rd-highest concentration of entertainment establishments, 13th-highest concentration of bookstores and 18th-highest concentration of hotels. Overall, it earned a score of 89.96.

Bloomington, Indiana, which is home to Indiana University Bloomington, takes the unlucky top spot, mainly because one in three of its residents is an undergraduate student.

Of the 11 college towns SmartAsset identified as being most vulnerable during COVID-19 (No. 10 was a tie), all have city populations of less than 125,000. In those towns, students and staff make up larger percentages of the population and workforce. More than two in 10 residents are undergraduate students in all 11 towns. Additionally, in all but one of the 11 — hey there, Flagstaff, Arizona — more than one in 10 workers are employed by local four-year institutions.