20 College Towns Where Rent Has Blown Up Since 2010
The University of Illinois, where trees and parking are plentiful and housing is not. (Flickr)

The University of Illinois, where trees and parking are plentiful and housing is not. (Flickr)

There will always be construction; it’s one of those things in life that’s inevitable. Maybe the road you most frequently travel on to get to class has been torn up for the past year and is just about to finish, and you’re getting hopeful that finally—FINALLY—your commute will be a little less painstaking. We hate to break it to you, but the week that project finishes, another one is going to crop up on this same route. That’s the nature of public works—some things are always happening.

Rent is the same way; it’s always going to go up. Inflation—that thing your grandparents can never fully understand—is an unrelenting force that seems to push rental rates up across the country, basically every year.

We analyzed data pulled from the U.S. American Community Survey, done by the Census Bureau, and zeroed in on 200 cities that are home to universities across the country. We found that the cost of rent increased from 2010 to 2015 at all but eight of them. Oof.

Why do rents go up? You can blame the law of supply and demand for that. A lack of rental housing (low vacancy rates), an increase in enrollment, a shortage of dorm rooms and inadequate new off-campus housing development means more students searching and not enough places to go around. This results in a market whose scale is heavily weighted in favor of landlords looking to collect rent.

At some campuses, there are enough luxury apartments to house virtually every student who’s looking to live off-campus. At others? The situation is much bleaker. From the survey data, we looked at the 20 campuses that have seen the biggest increases in rent over the past five years and assessed whether or not there’s a reason for students to be hopeful that rents would be dropping anytime soon.

20. University of Iowa: Iowa City, IA

2015 Rent: $865
2010 Rent: $742
Change In Rent: $123

The housing crunch in Iowa City is likely to keep getting worse before it starts getting better. As enrollment at the University of Iowa continues to climb, more luxury student apartment developers are likely to swoop into town. CA Ventures broke ground on a development scheduled to open in summer of 2018, and more developers are likely to follow. Until the rate of development increases, prices will continue to soar, as students and locals compete for housing in a scarce market.

19. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Urbana-Champaign, IL

2015 Rent: $874
2010 Rent: $748
Change In Rent: $126

Enrollment at the University of Illinois is up about 2,000 students since 2010, meaning more students competing for housing. Fortunately, roughly 800 more units have popped up near campus over the same time period to accommodate some of the population growth, keeping UIUC from climbing too high on our list.

18. Oregon State University: Corvallis, OR

2015 Rent: $868
2010 Rent: $735
Change In Rent: $133

Enrollment continues to grow quickly at Oregon State, and the student-friendly community continues to expand as well. According to the Corvallis Gazette-Times, with enrollment growth at OSU, the unofficial university district of rental homes and apartments keeps spreading. OSU president Ed Ray told the Gazette-Times last year that the university has not dealt with the way enrollment growth has impacted the Corvallis community. With a tough process for getting new developments built, rents could continue to rise in the coming years near campus if more houses and duplexes aren’t converted into student rentals.

17. Illinois State University: Normal, IL

2015 Rent: $827
2010 Rent: $691
Change In Rent: $136

Vacancy rates in Normal, Illinois have decreased since 2010, but only slightly. There’s currently a 7.9% vacancy rate, compared to an 8.4% vacancy rate in 2010. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the 50 rental units currently under construction should be enough to keep the rents from rising too much more in the coming year.

16. Auburn University: Auburn, AL

2015 Rent: $813
2010 Rent: $677
Change In Rent: $136

A 16% increase in rent is no fun for student renters. On the plus side, Auburn still has the third cheapest rent on our top 20 list. The city has strict zoning rules, but last May did allow for five student housing projects to continue development. The new units being built are going to be pricey, but they should help ease the housing shortage the campus community was experiencing.

15. University of Vermont: Burlington, VT

2015 Rent: $1050
2010 Rent: $908
Change In Rent: $142

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Burlington market has seen an increase in vacancies over the past five years and should be trending towards a more balanced rental market. This means rent prices are likely to even out in the coming years as new units should help satiate renter demand.

14. Oklahoma State University: Stillwater, OK

2015 Rent: $743
2010 Rent: $596
Change In Rent: $147

Stillwater is flush with houses, ranking among cities that have the most houses for rent in America. But even that hefty stock hasn’t been enough to inflate vacancy rates and bring down rent for students. The city of Stillwater studied the rental housing market in 2014 and found that housing was not being constructed fast enough to meet student demand. In addition, more than half of renters in Stillwater were living in housing that was not affordable, and the city would need an additional 2,000 to 2,500 new units by 2020.

Fortunately, Stillwater is in the midst of a commercial development boom. Last year, student housing developer, EdR, broke ground on a 475 bedroom complex near campus that will complete this summer. More units should be on the way, and rental prices should begin to level off.

13. University of North Carolina: Chapel Hill, NC

2015 Rent: $1003
2010 Rent: $848
Change In Rent: $155

For 30 years, development was rare around Chapel Hill. In the last five or so, more and more buildings have popped up, but that’s barely made a dent in vacancy rates and the upward trend in rent. The Daily Tar Heel reported that rent prices trended upwards of six percent this past February. Without more lower cost housing options—only higher end, higher priced options have been developed of late—it’s going to be tough for rent to level off anytime soon near UNC.

12. Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville: Edwardsville, IL

2015 Rent: $944
2010 Rent: $789
Change In Rent: $155

Edwardsville, one of the smallest towns on our list at just under 25,000 citizens, has seen rent prices increase over 16% in the past five years. Development has been slow but steady, and enrollment has leveled off over the past few years. Enrollment is still near a record high but has not reached the record level it was at in 2014.

11. Virginia Tech: Blacksburg, VA

2015 Rent: $935
2010 Rent: $770
Change In Rent: $165

Vacancy rates in Blacksburg have steadily dipped towards five percent since topping out at over eight percent in 2009, which has been a huge influence on the increase in rent. According to a document put together by the city of Blacksburg, “no new apartment development was recorded in 2010 and 2011, but over 200 units were added in 2012 and 2013, with an additional 325 units expected for 2015 and 2016.” Slow unit growth is a big influence on the dropping vacancy rate and is most likely contributing to the rising rent prices near Virginia Tech.

10. Georgia Southern University: Statesboro, GA

2015 Rent: $753
2010 Rent: $585
Change In Rent: $168

With tons of development from nearly every national student housing corporation, Statesboro, Georgia isn’t lacking in student-focused options near campus. Unfortunately, there is a lack of cheaper houses for rent, which makes this campus a bit unusual. Most students are living in apartments rather than houses that are typically lower in cost, especially when split between four or five roommates. Will prices be dropping soon near Georgia Southern? It’s hard to say. The luxury student housing complexes come with plenty of amenities and opportunities for fun, but that comes at a cost.

9. Pennsylvania State University: State College, PA

2015 Rent: $967
2010 Rent: $798
Change In Rent: $169

Rents have steadily been on the rise near Penn State for years, despite locals battling with college-aged renters over things like maintenance and noise violations. Fortunately for the locals, there are 1,000 more beds on the way in the form of student housing complexes being developed on Beaver Avenue. This should help satiate student housing demand and keep noise and parties away from the local, non-student residents in State College.

8. Texas State University: San Marcos, TX

2015 Rent: $939
2010 Rent: $765
Change In Rent: $174

Texas State is the largest employer and property owner in San Marcos, which was America’s fastest growing city in the year 2014. The school’s growth has led to more and more student housing development. Unfortunately, this has quickly raised rental prices, as students have flocked to more expensive, luxury student housing options and away from cheaper housing rentals in the city. As the campus and town continue to grow, it’s likely that more student housing developers will continue to saturate the market, and rent prices will continue to climb.

7. Cornell University: Ithaca, NY

2015 Rent: $1019
2010 Rent: $822
Change In Rent: $197

Rising rent is no new problem in Ithaca. Late last year, the Ithaca Voice wrote about the ongoing 16-year battle with affordable housing. The piece notes that while a lot of development is taking place, it’s often at the cost of existing housing. Replacing 400 units with 1200 units is only a net gain of 800 units, hardly enough to offset a nearly two-decade run of rent increases.

But a subtle shift may be on the horizon. A local developer’s survey found that smaller buildings in Ithaca, which are typically occupied by students, had a vacancy rate as high at nine percent in 2016.

6. George Mason University: Fairfax, VA

2015 Rent: $1692
2010 Rent: $1484
Change In Rent: $208

Not far from Washington D.C., Fairfax isn’t necessarily your normal college town. Rents in the city have steadily increased year-over-year as more and more people who work in the nation’s capitol avoid the chaos of D.C.’s housing crunch by transporting to and from Fairfax every day.

5. Colorado State University: Fort Collins, CO

2015 Rent: $1077
2010 Rent: $853
Change In Rent: $224

With median rents now nearing almost $1400, Fort Collins has seen the cost of rent skyrocket over the past seven years. Enrollment at Colorado State has grown by over 2,000 students since 2010, and with strict enforcement of the U+2 law, which prevents renters from living with more than two unrelated roommates, renters have dealt with a shortage of housing options that has resulted in a boon for landlords.

4. University of Colorado: Boulder, CO

2015 Rent: $1243
2010 Rent: $1010
Change In Rent: $233

Thanks to rising demand and strict housing ordinances, rent prices in Boulder have steadily increased year over year. But unlike some of the top towns on this list, there’s actually been a significant increase in development, and vacancy rates neared peak levels in quarters three and four of 2016. This should give students hope that rent prices will level off in the coming years.

3. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA

2015 Rent: $1686
2010 Rent: $1448
Change In Rent: $238

Thanks to a thriving campus and new luxury builds in the area, rents in Cambridge have continued to rise at a pace quicker than any other area of Boston (which is already super expensive). Whether it’s 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 or any other year, rent prices in Cambridge will continue to go up. This Google search produced great results (if you’re a landlord in Cambridge) or terrible results (if you’re a student at Harvard), depending on which side of the fence you reside.

Yikes. Or yay.

Yikes. Or yay.

2. University of Alaska: Fairbanks, AK

2015 Rent: $1259
2010 Rent: $1000
Change In Rent: $259

Though they’ve increased significantly over the past five years, we’ve likely seen the peak of rents near the University of Alaska. With Alaska facing a recession and enrollment down at the Fairbanks campus by roughly 350 students this Spring, rent prices have begun to drop. Fairbanks rents dropped one percent in 2016 and could be on the decline in the future.

1. Stony Brook University: Stony Brook, NY

2015 Rent: $2301
2010 Rent: $1430
Change In Rent: $871

Stony Brook does not want to be a college town, and that’s part of the problem.

The housing crisis at Stony Brook University has been on-going for nearly two decades. The University has struggled to find enough room for its ever-expanding student body, and the surrounding area hasn’t embraced the idea of being a college community. When neighbors complained about an increase in student tenants in the area, the town of Brookhaven, where many students at Stony Brook reside, began aggressively policing student landlords. The town increased inspection frequency and punished any landlords with too many student renters on-site, doubling fine amounts in 2013.

Over the years, the number of landlords who rent to students has decreased while the student population has stayed steady, resulting in an unrelenting demand for off-campus housing. This almost always leads to higher rents and a University struggling to provide the student body with more options on or near campus. Unless housing in the form of new, student-friendly apartment complexes or multi-family homes becomes available, rent prices near college campuses will continue to increase for the foreseeable future.


Chips and salsa aficionado, Ali Bartmer joined the Rent College Pads team in the fall of 2016 as the Operations Assistant and has since become a Content crafter. Cat mom of one, Ali prides herself in being a Bloody Mary connoisseur and with her Masters from Hogwarts there’s nothing Ali can’t do.

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