College towns bring to mind tailgating parties, all-night study sessions, and football games on crisp fall nights. But there’s more to these education-minded cities than good times and hard tests. Safety is always a concern—whether you’re becoming a college parent for the first time or looking to settle down in a city with the rich art, culture, and development so prominent in college towns across the country.
To simplify your search for a safe college town to call your own, SafeWise security experts have examined the most recent FBI crime statistics and identified safety-related programs and initiatives in college cities across the country. The result is our 2016 list of the 30 Safest College Towns in America.
Your search for the ideal college community—where safety is as valued as education and innovation—is practically over. Take a look at the 30 college towns we’ve selected (many of which made our list for the second year in a row) and discover your new home. Whether it’s for a semester or a lifetime, these college towns defy traditional party stereotypes and demonstrate the power of thoughtful and proactive public safety practices.
Find out if your current (or future) town made our list of the safest college towns in the country, then share the news by embedding our Safest College Towns in America badge on your city website.
1. Winona, Minnesota
Winona tops our list of safest college towns and also claimed the number 18 spot on SafeWise’s 2016 100 Safest Cities in America list. Home to Winona State University (shown above), this picturesque city is known for its distinctive Sugar Loaf Bluff, which has guided travelers along the Mississippi River since the early days of traders and explorers. Students at WSU stay informed of everything from severe weather events to campus emergencies through the school’s Star Alert emergency texting system. In addition, the Winona Police Department employs a full-time Community Liaison to facilitate safety programs and community involvement in crime prevention and awareness.
2. Charleston, Illinois
Image source: Eastern Illinois University
This charming downstate Illinois town was the site of one of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, and it remains a conscientious, civic-minded community today. The Charleston Fire Department successfully responded to more than 4,400 fire and emergency calls in 2015 and serves as a training ground for fire, rescue, hazmat, and crisis response teams from across the region. At Eastern Illinois University, the University Police provide around-the-clock patrols and programs like Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) that teach self-defense and safety awareness techniques. These efforts helped the campus keep crimes such as aggravated assault and robbery to fewer than five on-campus incidents for each of the last two reporting years.
3. Grand Rapids, Michigan
Grand Rapids has been recognized as one of the country’s best places to raise a family and a top spot for fun and recreation—plus it consistently makes our list of safest cities in Michigan. But with at least 15 colleges and universities and over 30,000 students, this safe college town is about more than fun and games. It’s not uncommon to find Grand Rapids police officers engaging with citizens in their neighborhoods, on the soccer field, or even as a birthday party surprise. On campus at area colleges like Grand Rapids Community College, campus police provide a number of services including personal escorts, disabled vehicle assistance, and emergency call boxes.
4. Durham, New Hampshire
Durham offers coastal living, mountain adventure, arts and culture—all in an idyllic New England package. Once part of Massachusetts, this active community is now home to the University of New Hampshire. Both on campus and on city streets, Durham residents benefit from programs like Police Explorers and Adopt-a-Cop. Designed to improve relations between local law enforcement and the UNH Greek community, the Adopt-a-Cop program provides a dedicated officer to each Greek house. This enables the police to work directly with the Greek community to provide safety training and security at social events. This innovative collaboration creates a safe environment for both students and nearby residents.
5. Canyon, Texas
This panhandle town was founded on Christmas Day, which seems to have imbued the city with a spirit of celebration and giving. Its series of community festivals hosted in the city’s vibrant downtown square, commitment to educational excellence, and access to Palo Duro Canyon State Park helped make Canyon one of Livability’s 10 Best Small Towns in the country. West Texas A&M University is a source of pride for Canyon and provides students with a comprehensive suite of services through its Campus Safety and Security division. From Environmental Health and Safety to the Campus Emergency Response Team (CERT), WTAMU leaves no safety consideration unattended.
6. Rexburg, Idaho
Touted as “America’s Family Community,” Rexburg is nestled in the Snake River Valley and home to Brigham Young University–Idaho. The city, which was devastated by the Teton Dam Flood 40 years ago, is also host to the Eastern Idaho Disaster Preparedness CERT class. This training helps neighbors prepare for and respond to disasters and provides rescuer safety instruction. On the BYU–Idaho campus, the Security and Safety Services department watches out for students with 24/7 patrols, personal escorts, and crime prevention programs. Security Dispatch monitors all safety events on campus and coordinates with local police and fire departments as needed.
7. Amherst, Massachusetts
Still governed by a traditional town meeting, Amherst is a city of concerned and involved citizens. City-wide initiatives are common, like the Community Shred event, which was co-sponsored by police and SALT (Seniors and Law Enforcement Together). The event focused on protecting vulnerable citizens from fraud and identity theft. Three colleges call Amherst home, including the University of Massachusetts–Amherst. At UMass–Amherst, community outreach is a cornerstone of crime prevention. To address the danger of campus shootings, an Active Threat Program has been implemented to educate students and faculty on how to respond and stay safe in the event of an attack.
8. Blacksburg, Virginia
Forever changed by the campus shooting at Virginia Tech, both this city and its university have shown impressive resilience and healing over the past nine years. Accolades for the safety efforts and fortitude of this mountain town abound. Blacksburg has been named the Best Place in the U.S. to Raise Kids and the Best College Town in the South. The Virginia Tech Police Department boasts more than 50 sworn officers who are on duty campus-wide 24/7. The Campus Watch Nighttime Patrol keeps a watchful eye on campus residence halls from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. each day.
9. Princeton, New Jersey
Best known as home to one of America’s most prestigious Ivies, this pre-Revolutionary city delivers on both its New England charm and its intelligent reputation. The police department has partnered with BAIR Analytics to provide residents with RAIDS, an online crime map that sends real-time alerts to crime activity and reports of on crime data in their neighborhood. At Princeton University, the Department of Public Safety combines tech with the personal touch. Students benefit from social media alerts and community outreach efforts like Eating Club Officers (EChOs), where officers join forces with Princeton’s famed Eating Clubs to increase community involvement in safety issues.
10. Bristol, Rhode Island
Although home to battles in both the Revolutionary War and King Philip’s War, Bristol has prevailed as a thriving seaport. Host to the nation’s oldest Independence Day celebration, Bristol knows the importance of public safety. Bristol’s police force has been protecting citizens and visitors since 1890 and consists of both patrol and detective divisions. At Roger Williams University, students can use the Rave Guardian app to turn their smartphone into a personal safety device. The app is a safety timer, a panic button, and a way to alert friends, family, or emergency services that you are in trouble.
11. Elon, North Carolina
Until 2001, this education-minded town was known as Elon College. When the college became a university, the city decided to drop the “College” from its name as well. However, this tree-lined town still centers most industry and activity around Elon University. In addition to comprehensive crime awareness education, Elon University wants to make sure students make it home safely. The university provides personal escorts on campus from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m., and the Safe Rides program provides transportation to students who have been drinking. Safe Rides also works to educate students about the dangers of drinking and driving.
12. Highland Heights, Kentucky
Affectionately known as “The Highlands,” this bucolic Cincinnati suburb is home to the bustling Northern Kentucky University campus. With around 15,000 students, the university has done an impressive job of limiting crime on campus. According to NKU’s most recent crime statistics, there were no incidents of assault, robbery, arson, motor vehicle theft, or murder in 2014. One way NKU helps protect students is through the free NKU phone app. The app includes emergency contact information, an alert system, and personal safety tips. In addition, the university regularly conducts fire drills and active shooter education.
13. West Lafayette, Indiana
Purdue University, which is located along the Wabash River in West Lafayette, has long been a leader in both education and social change. Amelia Earhart worked at the university as a career counselor for female students and advisor for the Department of Aeronautics. That forward-thinking continues in the school’s campus safety and security efforts. Both the university and city police departments are diverse and inclusive, incorporating bike patrols and an elite K-9 unit. Certified drug and explosives dogs are used to help provide a safe environment for Purdue’s staff, faculty, students, and visitors.
14. Orono, Maine
There’s a little something for everyone in the village of Orono. From the quaint downtown business district to the 4,200-foot-long bog boardwalk, this friendly college city is full of small-town charm and extraordinary natural treasures. Orono also boasts the University of Maine, which has been fulfilling its mission of research, education, and service for the past 150 years. That commitment to service is evident on the annual Welcome Weekend Day of Service. This year, more than 2,000 incoming students volunteered to help improve the Orono community during the university’s seventh annual event.
15. Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania
Nestled in rolling hills, this peaceful hamlet is rich in community spirit. Local community leaders, business developers, and artisans banded together to revitalize the downtown district, giving rise to a quaint town center known as the Village at Slippery Rock. This civic enthusiasm extends to public safety, throughout the town and the bustling Slippery Rock University campus. Both safety and sustainability are priorities at SRU, leading the college to be recognized as one of the Princeton Review’s top Green Colleges. The university was also given the distinction of being a Green Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.
16. Irvine, California
Orange County isn’t always the first place that springs to mind when you think of safety, but this gorgeous California city—home to a bevy of universities and colleges—defies all stereotypes. Irvine is an affluent, planned community that spares no expense to keep its residents and college students secure. Through public funding and private donations, Irvine provides robust public safety programs like the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), Irvine Disaster Emergency Communications (IDEC), and the Trauma Intervention Program. These programs bring citizens and emergency services together to keep the community—and all its college campuses—safe.
17. Edinboro, Pennsylvania
Known as a lake resort in the summer and a college town in the winter, Edinboro lays claim to Edinboro University, the largest institution of higher learning in northwestern Pennsylvania. Established in 1857 as a private training school for teachers, EU has evolved and expanded its focus over the decades, but its core principle of academic excellence has never wavered—and neither has its commitment to safety. The university fosters an environment of security and encourages students to say something if they see something. Anonymity is ensured through the free EU Shield Safety App, where students can submit tips, including video and photos.
18. Williamsburg, Virginia
The College of William and Mary is the second-oldest college in the nation and one of the country’s 31 Public Ivies. Tucked safely in the colonial town of Williamsburg, this educational treasure boasts a comprehensive Safety Plan that addresses environmental, health, and other safety issues. The plan considers everything from lab and fire safety to accident reporting and recycling. Likewise, the city of Williamsburg takes an all-inclusive approach to public safety. Programs like Heads-Up and File of Life provide emergency responders with lifesaving information that special needs, injured, or incapacitated residents may not be able to communicate during an emergency.
19. Houghton, Michigan
Houghton has been named one of the 100 Best Small Towns in America, and a visit to its popular waterfront makes it easy to see why. The town is bolstered by the prominent Michigan Technological University campus that calls Houghton home. Community relations and citizen participation are cornerstones of public safety for both the city and MTU. The Houghton Police Department provides public forums like the “Question of the Week” to regularly address citizen questions and concerns. On campus, Public Safety and Police Services provide customized crime prevention presentations as requested by university residence halls, departments, and associations.
20. Clarion, Pennsylvania
Clarion is home to the award-winning Autumn Leaf Festival and Clarion University. This former mining and lumber town is now a beacon of sustainability as a Blueprint Community. Whether it’s protecting the environment or the city’s smallest citizens, Clarion is ever diligent. The city provides grants for infant and child car seats to help families keep their little ones safely buckled up. On campus, CU provides safe spaces for all students. The Building Bridges program fosters communication and understanding among students of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, preparing all students to be better citizens of the world as part of inclusive communities.
21. Marquette, Michigan
Known as the educational, healthcare, recreation, and retail center of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Marquette is the ideal home for Northern Michigan University’s 9,000 students. The city is a major Lake Superior port and works hard to keep residents safe both on land and sea. In addition to a city-sponsored Waterfront Safety Task Force, Marquette’s police department provides rescue/dive teams, a snowmobile patrol, and officers dedicated to relations with schools and the city’s youth. The NMU Public Safety and Police Services department also provides swim safety information and resources for students who can’t resist the local beachfront.
22. Millersville, Pennsylvania
This former farming community boasts the sprawling 245-acre campus of Millersville University. Proud of its heritage, the university now uses the original Miller homestead, built in 1763, to house the campus police department. On top of 24/7 patrols and duties like traffic management, the university police provide robust resources for sexual and dating violence awareness and support. There is a sexual assault advocate on campus, as well as a confidential dating and domestic violence advocate. The department also provides education about sexual and dating violence to increase awareness and incident prevention.
23. Waltham, Massachusetts
Settled along the banks of the Charles River, Waltham is a city founded on hard work and workers’ rights. As an early epicenter of the labor movement, this safe college city has always been fiercely protective of its citizens. Today, both Bentley University and Brandeis University continue that tradition as they train tomorrow’s leaders. At Bentley, for example, the university police are keeping up with times with their drone policy. All unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) must be approved by the university’s Chief of Police and must not present any threat to safety, privacy, or the environment.
24. Northfield, Minnesota
Northfield was platted in 1855 and was established as an educational center when Carleton College opened its doors in 1866. Not quite 10 years later, St. Olaf College was founded. It’s no wonder that a city committed to the pursuit of education also values the sacrifices of our nation’s military. Northfield is a Beyond the Yellow Ribbon community, which means it goes above and beyond to support local military personnel, veterans, and their families. The program provides help for families of deployed service members, reintegration support for returned soldiers, and financial, medical, and mental health assistance for veterans.
25. Edwardsville, Illinois
As the third oldest city in the Prairie State and home to five state governors, Edwardsville has a long history of civic duty and community spirit. That enthusiasm extends to public safety, both for the city and its large Southern Illinois University campus. Each quadrant of the city has a dedicated beat officer that gets to know the residents and their needs in order to provide long-term solutions and improve quality of life for Edwardsville citizens. Likewise, the SIUE police work with students to prevent crime on campus and ensure a safe, supportive learning environment.
26. Pullman, Washington
Pullman is nestled in the hills of eastern Washington, where the city is protected from the state’s famed wet weather. Home to the first and largest campus of Washington State University (or Wazzu, as it is affectionately known to locals and alumni), Pullman is a statewide leader for education, sustainability, and safety. The city was recently awarded a FEMA grant to upgrade equipment for the fire department. In addition, the city uses the Nextdoor app to better connect neighborhoods and implement neighborhood watch systems. Pullman police officers also work with WSU police on joint efforts like the Quad Cities Drug Task Force to make the community as safe as possible.
27. Westfield, Massachusetts
Just two hours outside Boston, Westfield is the proud home of Westfield State University, which was the first co-educational college in the nation to offer education to all regardless of race, creed, or economic status. That inclusive tradition continues today as the WSU Student Threat Assessment Team (STAT) works to rid the campus of potentially threatening, violent, or alarming behaviors that make any member of the university community feel unsafe. Behaviors investigated by STAT include violent or threatening language, art, writings, verbal statements, actions, and even indications of suicidal thoughts.
28. Maryville, Missouri
Maryville is a city that displays its civic pride through public and private beautification projects and cooperative efforts that bring residents together for the betterment of the town. These ideals are mirrored by Northwest Missouri State University, which includes servant leadership, collaboration, and providing beautiful surroundings in its core mission and values. Maryville has a citywide volunteer effort, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, that provides a forum for citizens to request and offer help. At NMSU, the entire campus community is engaged in safety and crime prevention efforts. One of the most notable is the Safe Ride Home program, which provides transportation to students anywhere within city limits.
29. Athens, Ohio
This Hocking River city has always been known as a college town, and the partnership between Athens and Ohio University is virtually seamless. From welcome letters to incoming students jointly penned by the Mayor and University President to cooperative safety efforts, this town fully embraces its role to serve and protect its student population. In the wake of the national outbreak of mass shootings, the OU Police Department adopted the ALiCE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) strategy and produced an instructional video that won a Silver Telly Award. The video is used to help prepare the OU community in the event of an active shooter situation.
30. Montclair, New Jersey
In Montclair you can take in the bright lights of the Big Apple from nearby peaks and enjoy the distinctive architecture of six nationally designated historic districts and 92 individual landmarks. This charming burg is a perfect blend of modern and classic, and the Montclair State University campus is no exception. The institution has been ranked as one of the country’s top 30 LGBTQ-Friendly campuses and recognized as a Hispanic Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education. Inclusion and tolerance are key factors in making MSU and its home of Montclair a safe place to pursue higher education.
How We Rank the College Towns
Using the most recent FBI crime statistics from 2014, SafeWise calculated the total number of crimes committed in each American town with at least one academic institution of higher education. We then weighted those numbers in relation to population statistics and other important factors. Finally, SafeWise researched relevant safety, health, and educational programs that help make each “Safest College Town” safer and more secure.