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A recent trip to to an R1 for a college basketball game brought back a feeling I didn’t know I missed – the feeling of being in a college town. It turns out that there is a huge difference between a “college town” and a “town with a college.” I suppose that I would classify a college town as one in which a college or university is the largest employer, causing most of the people in the town to interact with students or academic employees on a regular basis. Using this definition, the location of my undergraduate institution qualified for most of my time there and the location of my graduate program definitely qualified.

After 11 years in college towns, the transition to a town with a college can be jarring. The character of social life is much different, especially in terms of the age of bar patrons, but there are a number of other differences. Over break, a colleague mentioned getting coffee but noted that doing so was impossible because the coffee shop in the student union closes at 10 am during breaks. In a college town there would be numerous coffee shops within walking distance of campus. In my town there are none. The realization that I could not get coffee on a January afternoon made me think about all of the time I spent as an undergraduate in off-campus coffee shops.

The things within walking distance of my campus consist of a bank, two grocery stores, two pizza places, a Chinese restaurant, a post office, a drugstore, a post office, and a bar. Each of these locations has college student patrons but none of them are aimed particularly at college students. The difference is also felt by those who have no affiliation with the school. Each time we visit a large campus in a college town my wife notes that she wishes my career aspirations had been different so that she could experience the kind of environment she grew accustomed to while I was in grad school. Maybe if there were huge liberal arts colleges (HLACs) we could have the best of both worlds.

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