Unlike other pieces of America’s economic pie, the higher education sector grew before, during and after the Great Recession of 2007-09.

“Colleges and universities are assets to their regional economies, especially because they spend money in their local areas and employ local workers,” economists Jaison Abel and Richard Deitz say. “The higher education sector also tends to contribute stability to a region since it’s less susceptible to downturns than other sectors of the economy.”

That economic stability has contributed significantly to population growth in college towns across the U.S. A LawnStarter review of data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows five college towns saw population growth of at least 10 percent from 2010 to 2015.

For our analysis, we looked at population figures for metro areas anchored by NCAA Division I colleges and universities. We then narrowed the field to college-town metro areas that had fewer than 500,000 residents in 2015 and whose main city hosts the college or university.

Big Growth in Greeley

University of Northern Colorado

The University of Northern Colorado has more than 12,000 students.
Photo: University of Northern Colorado

The Greeley, CO, metro area landed at the top of our list, with a 2010-15 population growth rate of 12.19 percent. In 2010, the Greeley area had 254,166 residents. Five years later, the population reached 285,174.

Nate Haas, PR director at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, says people are drawn to the community because “it offers big-city amenities while retaining its small-town charm.” Greeley itself is home to about 100,000 residents.

Situated between Colorado’s high plains and Rocky Mountains, and within a one-hour drive of Denver and Rocky Mountain National Park, Greeley provides a range of opportunities in employment, recreation and entertainment, according to Haas.

Kim Barbour, public affairs director of the Greeley Chamber of Commerce, says that in recent years, employment opportunities have abounded in the oil and gas industry, although growth in that sector has declined recently. Other jobs are available in sectors like manufacturing, health care, agriculture and higher education.

“Our balanced economy helps us continue to grow,” Barbour says.

Housing Boom

Downtown Greeley

Greeley, CO, has about 100,000 residents.
Photo: Flickr/City of Greeley

Another people magnet is affordable housing. Barbour says Greeley’s housing prices are lower than other communities in northern Colorado and “significantly lower” than communities in the Denver metro area. According to real estate website Trulia, the median home price in Greeley is $219,000, compared with $308,500 in Denver.

Chad Howell, Greeley’s economic development director, says more and more people who work in Fort Collins are moving to Greeley; the two college towns are about 30 miles apart. In 2015, Greeley issued construction permits for nearly 1,000 residential units, about half of them single-family homes, with another 800 permits expected in 2016, Howell says.

“With 340 days of sunshine, mild winters and views of the majestic Rockies, it’s a gorgeous place to live,” the University of Northern Colorado says of Greeley.

Flocking to Colorado

rocky-mountains

Rocky Mountain National Park is close to several college towns in Colorado.
Photo: Tiverton Foundation

Greeley is one of three places in Colorado that made our list of the 12 fastest-growing college towns. The two others are Fort Collins (Colorado State University) and Boulder (University of Colorado).

‎Cindy DeGroen, projections demographer at the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, says population growth in Greeley, Fort Collins and Boulder has benefited considerably from young adults who are college students as well as young adults who are job seekers. All three locales have experienced average job growth of at least 2.5 percent per year since 2010, she says.

“Colorado has been an attractive state to relocate to over the past several years due to its lower unemployment rate relative to the nation as a whole and much faster job growth,” DeGroen says. “Colorado has continued to be within the five top states for job growth.”

12 Fastest-Growing College Towns

Greeley, Fort Collins and Boulder aren’t the only college towns where things are on the upswing, at least from a population perspective. Here’s our list of the 12 College Towns That Are “Growing Like a Weed.”

Editor’s note: In most cases, percentages were rounded up.

1. Greeley, CO

University of Northern Colorado

University of Northern Colorado
Photo: University of Northern Colorado

Major school: University of Northern Colorado
School enrollment (fall 2015): 12,216
Metro population 2010: 254,166
Metro population 2015: 285,174
Population increase 2010-15: 12.19%

2. Auburn, AL

auburn-university

Auburn University
Photo: Auburn University Office of Undergraduate Admissions

Major school: Auburn University
School enrollment (fall 2015): 27,287
Metro population 2010: 254,166
Metro population 2015: 285,174
Population increase 2010-15: 11.94%

3. Fargo, ND

North Dakota State University

North Dakota State University
Photo: Iowa Girl on the Go

Major school: North Dakota State University
School enrollment (fall 2015): 14,516
Metro population 2010: 209,419
Metro population 2015: 233,836
Population increase 2010-15: 11.66%

4. Fort Collins, CO

Colorado State University

Colorado State University
Photo: Colorado State University College of Natural Sciences

Major school: Colorado State University
School enrollment (fall 2015): 32,236
Metro population 2010: 300,524
Metro population 2015: 333,577
Population increase 2010-15: 11.00%

5. Iowa City, IA

University of Iowa

University of Iowa
Photo: University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

Major school: University of Iowa
School enrollment (fall 2015): 32,150
Metro population 2010: 152,988
Metro population 2015: 166,498
Population increase 2010-15: 8.83%

6. Wilmington, NC

UNCW

University of North Carolina Wilmington
Photo: University of North Carolina Wilmington Office of Admissions

Major school: University of North Carolina Wilmington
School enrollment (fall 2015): 16,677
Metro population 2010: 255,648
Metro population 2015: 277,969
Population increase 2010-15: 8.7311%

7. Savannah, GA

Savannah State University

Savannah State University
Photo: Savannah State University

Major school: Savannah State University
School enrollment (fall 2015): 4,900
Metro population 2010: 348,751
Metro population 2015: 379,199
Population increase 2010-15: 8.7305%

8. Bryan-College Station, TX

Texas A&M

Texas A&M University
Photo: Texas A&M University

Major school: Texas A&M University
School enrollment (fall 2015): 57,934
Metro population 2010: 229,473
Metro population 2015: 249,156
Population increase 2010-15: 8.58%

9. Boulder, CO

University of Colorado

University of Colorado
Photo: University of Colorado Law School

Major school: University of Colorado
School enrollment (fall 2015): 30,789
Metro population 2010: 295,986
Metro population 2015: 319,372
Population increase 2010-15: 7.90%

10. Clarksville, TN

Austin Peay State University

Austin Peay State University
Photo: Tumblr/Austin Peay State University

Major school: Austin Peay State University
School enrollment (fall 2015): 10,099
Metro population 2010: 261,691
Metro population 2015: 281,021
Population increase 2010-15: 7.39%

11. Columbia, MO

University of Missouri

University of Missouri
Photo: University of Missouri Office of the Provost

Major school: University of Missouri
School enrollment (fall 2015): 35,424
Metro population 2010: 163,200
Metro population 2015: 174,974
Population increase 2010-15: 7.21%

12. Ames, IA

Iowa State University

Iowa State University
Photo: Iowa State University/Daniel Black

Major school: Iowa State University
School enrollment (fall 2015): 36,001
Metro population 2010: 89,633
Metro population 2015: 96,021
Population increase 2010-15: 7.13%

Top photo: University of Northern Colorado

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