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Buffalo Niagara ranks among best destinations for college students

The Buffalo Niagara region remains an attractive destination for college students.

The region ranked fifth in the country among midsize metropolitan areas for providing a strong “informal learning environment” in the community, outside the classroom, according to a recent study.

The American Institute for Economic Research, a nonprofit research group in Massachusetts, examined criteria such as housing costs, earning potential, and research and development spending in 271 regions of all sizes.

San Jose finished first in the ranking of metropolitan areas of 1 million to 2.5 million residents. Rochester placed just behind Buffalo Niagara at sixth.

Buffalo Niagara slipped from No. 4 in 2013-14, while Rochester rose from No. 11 last year.

Instead of rating individual colleges and universities, the research organization weighed a dozen criteria within communities to develop its 2014-15 College Destination Index.

“When it comes to a student’s educational experience, the location of a college or university can be just as important as the educational institution itself,” said Stephen Adams, president of AIER. “The College Destination Index gives students and parents another layer of useful information when making the decision about where to go to college.”

The criteria are divided into four broad categories: student life, culture, economic health and opportunity.

In the culture category, Buffalo Niagara fared well with a high percentage of students who are foreign born, but not so well with the percentage of its workers who are in occupations considered “innovation producers,” like those in the fields of computers and math, architecture and engineering; and life, physical and social sciences.

The index also examined regions’ accessibility by determining the percentage of workers over the age of 16 who commute by taking public transportation, riding a bicycle or walking.

Among the largest metro areas in the country, Boston ranked first in AIER’s study, followed by Washington, D.C., and San Francisco.

Austin, Texas; Raleigh, N.C., and Pittsburgh joined San Jose and Buffalo among the top five for midsize metro areas.

Albany and Syracuse ranked among the top 20 for areas with 250,000 to 1 million residents.

The institute ranked Ithaca as the top-ranked college town for areas with fewer than 250,000 residents, while Binghamton came in at No. 18.

For a complete look at the index, go to email: