These 10 college towns are the most expensive in the nation. The implications are huge

Of the 22 college towns featured in the full report, California took up 19 spots in In My Area's report.

An updated report has unveiled the most expensive college towns in the nation. Those unlucky enough to make the list must be wary now of the issues it can create within its student and faculty body and the potential rifts it can develop between the community and school leadership.

No other topic on higher education may intimidate parents, students and the general American public more than the issue of affordability. It’s the driving reason most Americans believe higher education is not fine as it currently stands. But their reservations about tuition don’t even begin to address the cost of monthly rent payments.

In My Area analyzed cities nationwide that housed four-year, accredited bachelor’s degree-granting institutions. It then tallied the average rent prices for apartments containing up to five bedrooms and divided the rent price by the corresponding number of bedrooms.

The report found that one student’s average monthly rent cost was $735. Such a burden would require students to work full-time for about $15 an hour just to afford to live off campus or make around $30,000. However, most states’ minimum wages fall well below that.

As for the towns with the most expensive housing, residents are in for a rude awakening. Students and faculty signing a 12-month lease in Santa Clara, Calif., would have to make at least $70,000 to afford living expenses. In fact, California’s cities dominate the list of the most expensive college towns.

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The most sky-high rent prices

California cities are undisputedly the most expensive to live in, taking up nine of the 10 top spots. Of the 22 college towns featured in the full report, California took up 19. The other three were in Virginia: Arlington, Falls Church and Fairfax. Overall, residents have to muster at least $50,000 to live anywhere here.

Rank Location School(s) Avg. monthly rent per bedroom Yearly earnings needed to afford 12 payments
1 Santa Clara, Calif. Santa Clara University $1,829 $73,160
2 San Jose, Calif. San Jose State University;
University of Silicon Valley
$1,829 $73,160
3 Los Altos Hills, Calif. Foothill College $1,829 $73,160
4 Santa Barbara, Calif. University of California, Santa Barbara $1,819 $72,760
5 Atherton, Calif. Menlo College $1,743 $69,720
6 Arlington, Va. Marymount University $1,708 $68,320
7 San Rafael, Calif. Dominican University of California $1,426 $57,040
8 Santa Ana, Calif. Santa Ana College $1,285 $51,400
9 Orange, Calif. Chapman University $1,285 $51,400
10 Newport Beach, Calif. Interior Designers Institute $1,285 $51,400


While rent prices are beginning to plateau after last year’s 40-year-high spike, some metropolitan areas are still experiencing a surge. They just so happen to be in California, coinciding with this list. For example, San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara and San Diego-Chula Vista-Carlsbad experienced a rent increase of 9% and 6%, respectively, reports USA Today.

How expensive college towns are driving faculty inequity, the recent wave of strikes

Expensive college towns aren’t just a concern for students. A university’s overall performance is at risk if the city it resides in hinders its faculty diversity, says Joanna Brooks, Associate Vice President for Faculty Advancement and Student Success at San Diego State University.

With the average Black family’s net worth seven times smaller than white families, non-tenure and tenure-track faculty of color have a greater likelihood of experiencing financial hardships in expensive college towns. Consequently, they may be forced to turn away due to living expenses.

“We want to attract the best and brightest, and we want [faculty] to be able to stay with us for decades. How are [our colleagues of color] going to afford to stay with us for 30 years? How are they going to afford to get into a house in San Diego or Los Angeles, anywhere in the Bay Area or anywhere in most places?” Brooks says. “Unless we want to retain only people who have wealth, we’re going to have to have a good conversation about access to affordable housing for faculty, too.”

Additionally, expensive college towns contribute to the wave of student and faculty union strikes that hit higher education this past academic year.

California State University workers, who staged the largest academic strike in history last year, again rallied in July to fight for increased wages to afford housing and other essential commodities. Striking faculty at Rutgers University in New Jersey—where rent has spiked 20% to 40% since the pandemic—demanded affordable housing options for their students. The graduate students at the University of Michigan have been on strike for the past five months to bridge the gap between their salaries and living expenses.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and Florida Gator alumnus. A graduate in journalism and communications, his beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene, and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador, and Brazil.

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