College Town Markets: Resilient and Stable Amid Economic Shifts

Detailed college town with students, cars, and university buildings

College town markets have generally been more resilient during downturn periods, such as during 2020 and early 2021, though they also offer less upside during boom periods, such as during late 2023 and 2022.

RealPage Market Analytics found that college towns typically offered a more stable apartment market performance compared to the national average in an analysis of 25 college towns (listed below) with a population of less than 1 million people and the presence of a major college. Additionally, college towns tended to experience higher apartment occupancy than the U.S. overall, as well as more stability overall.

As of the 4th quarter of 2023, occupancy in college towns was 150 basis points (bps) above the national norm on a weighted average basis. That delta has more than doubled since the pandemic. As of the 4th quarter of 2019 (the last full quarter before COVID-19), the delta between college town average occupancy and the national norm was only 60 bps.

Part of that resilience undoubtedly comes from less supply pressure across college towns in general. The units under construction inventory ratio (construction as a percentage of total inventory) has historically run lower in college towns than the national norm. Across our 25 college towns, the units under construction inventory ratio averaged about 2.9% over the last five years, compared to about 4.5% nationwide.

Unit Under Construction

However, the delta between the two has gotten larger over time, primarily as a result of more building nationwide, even as construction across college towns has remained relatively steady. As of the 4th quarter of 2023, college towns had an average of 2.8% of units under construction, compared to 5% nationally.

College towns refer to the following 25 markets:.

FOR SALE: FULLY OCCUPIED 24-UNIT (DeKalb, IL, Northern Illinois University)

924 Greenbrier Rd., DeKalb, IL 60115

924 Greenbrier Multifamily Property in DeKalb, IL - Exterior view with parking

Source: College Towns Outperform Nation on Rents and Occupancy