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These Are The 10 Best Mid-Sized Cities for Education In America

Looking for a mid-sized city for your family? These 10 scored an A+ in education.

Natalie Grigson

Staff Writer

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At the Movoto Real Estate Blog we know a thing or two about finding a good place to live. After all, it’s kind of what we do here. There are tons of things to take into consideration—how exciting a place, how affordable, how happy, and if you’re a parent, how good the schools are.

Unfortunately there isn’t really a master list out there that breaks it all down for you—where the best places are for student-to-teacher ratios, costs, and all of the other factors that go into a good education. So, being the straight A students that we are, we decided to do the homework for you.

We’ve already looked up the best suburbs and small cities for education, so today we’re hitting the mid-sized cities. So grab a pen, paper, and get ready for some major note-taking. Here are the 10 best mid-sized cities for education:

1. Alexandria, VA
2. Frisco, TX
3. Naperville, IL
4. Cedar Rapids, IA
5. Overland Park, KS
6. Fort Collins, CO
7. Olathe, KS
8. McKinney, TX
9. Torrance, CA
10. Little Rock, AR

Don’t worry, there’s no test at the end, but we will go over our methodology in the next section, and then we’ll take a closer look at why each of these 10 places made the honor roll.

How We Created This Ranking

We started out by collecting data for 100 mid-sized cities in the U.S., using the 2013 U.S. Census, Sperling’s Best Places, and GreatSchools.org. Once we omitted any places that did not have complete data, we were left with a total of 98 mid-sized cities, which we then ranked with scores from 1 to 98 in the following categories:

  • Student-to-teacher ratio
  • Money spent per year per student
  • High school graduation rate
  • GreatSchools.org rating (based on test scores for the area)

Then we averaged each place’s score into a Big Deal Score, where the lower scores were the better places for education.

If your mid-sized city didn’t make the cut this year, don’t worry. There’s always next year. And feel free to check out the table at the bottom of the post for the top 50.

First, though, let’s take a closer look at our top 10, starting with this year’s valedictorian, Alexandria, VA.

1. Alexandria, VA

Best Mid-Sized Cities For Education

Source: Flickr user USFWS Fisheries

Just outside of Washington, D.C., Alexandria is one of the most affluent and academic cities in the area. Clearly, this is a pretty good combination when it comes to education. Case in point: the average cost per student in the area—$18,398 per year. That’s the fourth highest amount in this category.

Alexandria also scored points for its student-to-teacher ratio of just 12 to 1. To put this into perspective for you, the national average is 16 to 1, and in some places we looked at, it was as high as 23, or even 29 to 1.

And sure, it didn’t get the best score from GreatSchools.org (it got a 5 out of 10), but hey, with a 91 percent high school graduation rate, they’re clearly doing something right.

2. Frisco, TX

Best Mid-Sized Cities For Education

Source: Flickr user Patrick McKenna

Remember how we said that Alexandria didn’t have such a stellar score from GreatSchools.org? Well, that is certainly not the case for Frisco. It scored a 9 out of 10 based on students’ test performance, tying it for first in this category.

It also had one of the higher high school graduation rates for mid-sized cities in the country at 94 percent, plus a lower than average student-to-teacher ratio of 15 to 1. They don’t spend quite as much money per student as Alexandria (Frisco’s is just $11,521), but clearly, money doesn’t always guarantee a good education.

Of course it can certainly help. Just take a look at our next city.

3. Naperville, IL

Best Mid-Sized Cities For Education

Source: Flickr user hyphenmatt

As we mentioned above, Frisco tied for first in the category of GreatSchools.org scores, and what mid-sized city tied with it? Yep, that would be Naperville. Not only did it score a 9 out of 10 for students’ test scores, but it also had the highest high school graduation rate in the country—96 percent!

This, plus a budget of nearly $15,000 per student make Naperville, IL an excellent candidate for next year’s No. 1.

4. Cedar Rapids, IA

Best Mid-Sized Cities For Education

Source: Flickr user Joel Dinda

Many of the cities on our list scored exceptionally well in one or two categories—and then pretty poorly in others. You know, kind of like when your report cards always showed As in English and History, but Cs in math… Just me?

Anyway, Cedar Rapids is not one of those types of students because it did pretty well across the board. It came in with the 18th lowest student-to-teacher ratio, the 17th highest amount spent per student ($13,323), and the 13th highest high school graduation rate—89 percent.

Plus, it got a 6 out of 10 from GreatSchools.org, which may not be a 9 like the two before it. But hey, at least it’s no 2 (sorry, West Valley City, UT.)

5. Overland Park, KS

Best Mid-Sized Cities For Education

Source: Flickr user tlc

Overland Park is the first of two cities representing the Sunflower State’s education, so congratulations to both the city and state as a whole! Okay, back to business.

The reasons Overland Park came in so high on our list were its high school graduation rate of 95 percent, making it the second highest in the category, and its GreatSchools.org score of 8 out of 10.

It didn’t do quite as well when it came to money spent per student (just $10,905, tying it for 53rd in the category), but with a student-to-teacher ratio of just 15 to 1, it was below the national average of 16 to 1.

6. Fort Collins, CO

Best Mid-Sized Cities For Education

Source: Flickr user Dr._Colleen_Morgan

Fort Collins may have a slightly higher than average student-to-teacher ratio (17, as opposed to 16 to 1), but with its high school graduation rate of 93 percent, they’re clearly doing something right.

One of those somethings must be test preparation, because tied with a few other places, Fort Collins students had the 13th highest test scores in our study.

Second something: this city spent the 24th highest amount per student at $12,346 a year. Like we said, money can’t buy a good education… but it sure can help.

7. Olathe, KS

Best Mid-Sized Cities For Education

Source: Flickr user David Reber

The second of our Kansas cities, Olathe scored well for its student-to-teacher ratio of just 14 to 1 and its high school graduation rate of 92 percent. This placed it 11th and sixth in these categories, respectively.

As any A student knows, though, this wasn’t quite enough to put it among our top 10—the real deciding factor was its high score from GreatSchools.org. So congratulations to Olathe, and particularly its students who scored a 7 out of 10 based on test performance! Now get back to studying.

8. McKinney, TX

Best Mid-Sized Cities For Education

Source: Flickr user U.S. Department of Agriculture

McKinney may not have scored quite as well as our other Texas city, but hey this isn’t a contest.

Aside from that, though, McKinney did pretty well in all other categories. It had a student-to-teacher ratio of 16 to 1, which is right on average for the U.S., it scored a 7 out of 10 for students’ test performance, and had a high school graduation rate of 89 percent.

To put that into perspective for you, look no further than Brownsville, TX, where the high school graduation rate is just 56 percent. That’s the lowest for mid-sized cities in the U.S.

9. Torrance, CA

Best Mid-Sized Cities For Education

Source: Flickr user Kurt Thomas Hunt

If the beaches, moderate year-round climate, and low crime rates weren’t quite enough for you to consider Torrance, pay attention to this: out of all of the places we looked at, Torrance had the sixth highest high school graduation rate and tied for fourth for its GreatSchools.org score.

Students are also pretty well taken care of financially here, with an average of $12,346 spent per year per student. In fact, the only thing Torrance really needs to work on, it seems, is its student-to-teacher ratio of 21 to 1—one of the highest ratios in the country.

10. Little Rock, AR

Best Mid-Sized Cities For Education

Source: Flickr user AGB in AR

If you’re one of the many people who feel that tests are a poor way to judge a proper education, well, Little Rock might be the city for you. That’s because it did well in all of our categories—except for its GreatSchools.org rating. It earned a 4 out of 10 for test scores.

That being said, it also had a lower than average student-to-teacher ratio (just 15 to 1), a high school graduation rate of 87 percent, and an average of $14,729 spent per student each year. So really, what’s a little thing like test scores?

Class Dismissed

Well we hope this list has been most educational for you—especially if you’re a parent (or soon to be parent!) looking for the best mid-sized city for your kiddo’s schooling. We hear Alexandria, VA is just lovely this time of year.

Best Mid-Sized Cities for Education

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posted on: January 26, 2015
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