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OHIO experts explain the benefits of going to school in a vibrant college town

Nestled in the foothills of Appalachia, Athens, Ohio — the home of Ohio University — has it all. At least, that is according to, which recently named Athens the best college town in the state of Ohio.

Several of OHIO’s faculty experts agree that Athens is an ideal place to study, live and work, not only for the benefits that come with life in a college town, but because there are so many benefits the city provides to students unlike other campuses nearby.

A consistent theme on why Athens is the best college town around, according to OHIO faculty experts, centers around the excellent opportunities for ecotourism and actively practicing sustainability here in Athens. 

Professor Dr. Geoff Buckley, an environmental historical geographer, said Athens has a plethora of outdoor recreational and cultural opportunities available, including several nearby parks like Lake Hope State Park, Stroud’s Run, Wayne National Forest, Hocking Hills State Park, and the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway that allows students to visit nearby towns via bike trail.

He also commented that, when it comes to urban campuses versus college towns, walkability is a major factor in both efficiency for students and to help reduce pollution from cars. Although urban campuses rely a lot on public transportation, which helps reduce the carbon footprint, students’ campus and uptown Athens is in easy walking distance. 

“Colleges tend to be more inherently sustainable lifestyles than if we live in suburban enclaves,” Buckley explained. “Students live in dorms, they’re walking. This is when Americans are the most sustainable, when they’re at the college level. Because of this lifestyle and being in Athens only continues to promote these sustainable initiatives.”

Dr. Buckley also pointed out OHIO not only has a compost facility that allows the University and community members to compost much of their food waste, but it is the largest in-vessel composting system at any college or university in the nation. A compost facility would be much more difficult to have in an urban area since there would be lack of space for it and most people don’t want to see these types of large facilities in their compact neighborhood.

“Most universities don’t have a state-of-the-art compost facility that can handle the quantity of food waste that ours handles,” he added. 

Assistant Professor of Recreation and Sports Pedagogy Danny Twilley said ecotourism and sustainability are key components on which Athens thrives.,

“What Athens has compared to an urban campus is the access to open and natural spaces,” Twilley said. “It is rare to find a bike path right through your campus or nature preserves surrounding it where students can learn and study the environment while practicing it. Access to outdoor recreation like this is a hard thing to duplicate in other areas where it’s not right at your feet.”

He included that some may think of Athens as the quintessential college town, but what makes it special from other college towns is that it’s centered around education and quality of life.

“Athens was developed around education being the central purpose,” he added. “And then when the quality of life layer is included, allowing students the freedom to be a part of a tight-knit community and have access to all this outdoor recreation, the experience of being a student at OHIO is also about being a community member.”

Some may argue though that being in a college town doesn’t allow for as many opportunities to take part in cultural activities; however, Associate Professor of Instruction, Music Production and Recording Industry Josh Antonuccio begs to differ.

Antonuccio adds that although urban areas may have more art and culture, Athens is a hotbed for creativity and art, something not always seen in other college towns.

“Athens is a trifecta when it comes to the growing arts scene in the town,” he said. “There are always new generations of students coming in with new ideas, adding to the historical and Appalachian roots of the town while learning from them.”

Along with the foundation for art and creativity that has been set in Athens, he also adds that unlike urban campuses, students have various opportunities to immediately start their careers by having a wide range of stages they can easily perform on every night, as well as several partnerships in the area such as Stuart’s Opera House and the Nelsonville Music Festival that offer a first step for them to be a part of the scene.

“There is a connectivity here that you just can’t get in urban areas when you’re a student starting out,” Antonuccio said. “Any student who wants to DJ or a band who wants to play has the opportunity to headline shows at several locations around town right away. The engagement and accessibility they receive here makes it easy to be successful. There have been many musicians who have gone on to sign major label deals who got their start here by playing for the community first.”

Although there are pros and cons to both being a student in a college town and on an urban campus, there is no doubt why Athens is ranked as the best college town in Ohio and offers several benefits for students at Ohio University.

“The Athens community has an intimate and friendly environment that makes our students from different countries and cultures have a sense of belonging and feel comfortable and welcome,” said Sandy Chen, associate professor of hospitality and tourism. “The businesses and resources available to students in this town continue to provide them with a great setting to study in, with different perspectives they can take with them after they leave this beautiful home.”

October 24, 2019
Staff reports