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Why Tempe, AZ is the Best College Town in America

Tempe has everything a college student--and post-grad--could want

By Marc Acton on August 8, 2016

With its palm tree-lined streets and dry climate, Tempe (which locals pronounce temp-EE) is a hot #1 on our 2016 10 Best College Towns list, and for good reason–it’s a city with one of the most well respected universities, some of the best employment prospects, and one of the most vibrant communities in the nation. Add in its proximity to Phoenix, and you’ve got a recipe not just for a great place to get an education, but to settle down for life.

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Our list of best college towns was based on a combination of hard data and the perspective of our Livability experts who comb the country for exceptional small to medium-sized towns. Tempe shined in all the objective criteria, like its number of college age residents, the number of bars and restaurants in town, and diversity statistics. But it was also a staff favorite, which was no surprise as we’ve been enamored with the bustling town for years. It first made the Best College Towns list in 2014, and has been hitting our best of lists ever since, including being twice named one of our 100 Best Places to Live

Catering to College Kids

For students hustling from class to class, Tempe’s public transit system shines. Light rail, buses and even free shuttles are available. And with the city’s reputation for being extremely bikeable, students and residents alike have the option to go car-free. It’s also a walkable city, making getting around for students who are either budget-strapped or car-less possible.

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Student life is only fleeting though; any great college town has to have options post-graduation, and Tempe’s huge economic growth is the perfect foundation for lifelong career success. While other cities’ economic health relies on one or two huge employers, Tempe’s shows strength in numbers. There are 4,224 businesses in the greater Maricopa County area, each with more than 250 employees. From retail headquarters to aerospace and government contracting, job seekers in Tempe have a huge range of options.

A Great Partnership

Tempe didn’t earn its spot just on its own–they also have Arizona State University (ASU) partly to thank, as ASU dominates the area’s economic and community makeup. “Tempe and Arizona State University have been thriving together for decades, and our truly symbiotic relationship is only gaining steam,†says Mayor Mark Mitchell, who also explains that working together is the key to both the city and the university’s success. “The leaders of both entities collaborate to work on issues and envision the future. The ASU Athletic Facilities District is one example of the exciting possibilities that are within reach for both the university and Tempe.”

Along with being the town’s largest employer (well over 10,000), ASU also gives residents options for cultural entertainment. On any given day, there are drama productions, concerts, or new museum exhibits that are put on by students, or brought in by the university to provide learning opportunities. Fortunately, locals can also partake, as the majority of these events are open to the public. And many are free! Local sports fans also have plenty of ASU teams to cheer for, as the Sun Devils compete in the NCAA Division I in 20 different sports. In their history, ASU has won 23 national championships.

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ASU is one of the largest single-campus universities in the nation every year, with enrollment typically around 60,000. With a population of just over 166,000, Tempe is clearly dominated by the college presence. But residents and students both benefit, making Tempe not just a great college town, but a great town period–and definitely worth its number one spot. “Growing industries clamor to be here,” says the mayor. “Because of the high-quality workforce that ASU makes possible. Meanwhile, Tempe has made investments over time in our downtown, Tempe Town Lake, transportation and special events–all of which create a dynamic atmosphere where people want to play, learn, work and live.

Tempe and Arizona State University have been thriving together for decades, and our truly symbiotic relationship is only gaining steam.

Mark Mitchell
Tempe Mayor
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