By GCD Staff
Thanks to its widespread outdoorsy culture and beautiful natural scenery, Oregon attracts college students looking to experience living in one of America’s most stunning states. Unfortunately for college students on a budget, Oregon is also one of America’s most expensive states. That’s why we’ve done some research to find the 10 most affordable college towns in Oregon by taking into consideration both cost of living and quality of life.
Our editors used Wikipedia to make a list of every college town in Oregon, then used Sperling’s Best Places to rank them on general affordability. To figure out which college towns are most affordable, we looked at costs for housing, food, healthcare, transportation, and utilities. We compared these to the national average. We also considered features like amenities, crime rates, public transportation, and overall quality of life before narrowing our list down to the 10 most affordable college towns in Oregon.
1. La Grande
Eastern Oregon University
Cost of Living: 11.2% lower than the national average; 35.6% lower than the state average
Located just east of the Blue Mountains, La Grande got its name because one of its early French settlers, Charles Dause, frequently described the area’s natural beauty with the phrase “la Grande!” Today, this pretty small town is home to Eastern Oregon University. Residents and students alike enjoy La Grande’s extremely affordable cost of living, which averages well below both the national and state averages. While the cost of food actually averages above the U.S. norm, most other cost-of-living categories — including housing — average well below. Students determined to live off campus in La Grande can expect to rent a one-bedroom apartment for approximately $553 per month — a steal!
2. Klamath Falls
Oregon Institute of Technology
Cost of Living: 9.8% lower than the national average; 34.2% lower than the state average
Klamath Falls, home to Oregon Institute of Technology, is a picturesque town ideal for those who enjoy getting outdoors. Klamath Falls is nicknamed “Oregon’s City of Sunshine.” It’s located a mere hop from Crater Lake, making popular hiking, mountain biking, and fishing, among other outdoor adventures. And, of course, such a low cost of living leaves budget-conscious students with money to enjoy other things. Housing here is only about 86.6% of the national norm, while healthcare, utilities, transportation, and entertainment costs also average lower.
Willamette University; Corban University
Cost of Living: 8.7% higher than the national average; 15.7% lower than the state average
Salem may be the capital of Oregon, but this town of 165,000 people enjoys a certain small, college-town feel. Home to both Willamette University and the Christian Corban University, Salem offers its residents a friendly and walkable downtown area and lots of surrounding farmland. Though Salem’s cost of living is still about 9% higher than the national norm, it’s easily one of Oregon’s more affordable addresses. Salem’s highest cost-of-living categories include housing (40% higher than the U.S. average) and transportation (6% higher than the U.S. average), while its lowest categories include utilities (21% lower than the national average) and healthcare (17% lower than the national average).
Western Oregon University
Cost of Living: 12.3% higher than the national average; 12.1% lower than the state average
Located not too far from the state capital of Salem, Monmouth is a quiet and family-friendly town that also happens to be the home of Western Oregon University. Though Monmouth’s cost of living averages about 12% higher than the rest of the United States, it remains very affordable compared to the rest of Oregon. Housing in Monmouth is easily the most expensive cost-of-living category, with prices averaging about 48% higher than the national average. Meanwhile, costs for utilities, healthcare, and entertainment all average lower than the norm. Costs for food and transportation average just slightly higher.
University of Oregon; Northwest Christian University; New Hope Christian College; Gutenberg College
Cost of Living: 14.8% higher than the national average; 9.6% lower than the state average
With more than four colleges calling it home, Eugene is a college town known for its fun, young, and lively atmosphere. Students have access to all of Eugene’s favorite bars and restaurants, the former of which are especially popular considering the Willamette Valley’s reputation for breweries. Best of all, students living in Eugene can afford the occasional night out thanks to the college town’s affordability (well, it’s affordable by Oregon standards). Though food here averages about 10% more than the national norm, costs for healthcare, utilities, transportation, and entertainment average 10-20% below the national average.
Oregon State University
Cost of Living: 19.8% higher than the national average; 4.6% higher than the state average
Home to Oregon State University, Corvallis is well known as a family-friendly town. The economy here is strong, thanks in part to the local university. The quality of living is high because of Corvallis’s easy access to the beach (an hour away), the mountains (1.5 hours away), and Portland (two hours away). Though Corvallis’s cost of living is a tad higher than some of the other places on our list, most of that cost difference is due to housing. Housing costs in Corvallis average 85% higher than the national average, and about 8% higher than the state average. Fortunately, other cost-of-living categories such as entertainment, utilities, healthcare, and food all average right on par with or lower than the national norm.
Cost of Living: 21.6% higher than the national average; 2.8% lower than the state average
The affordable (by West Coast standards) town of McMinnville has a ton to offer its full-time residents and the students of Linfield College. Such offerings include the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum (and its waterpark with a waterslide jutting out from a 747 jumbo jet!). It has a full calendar of fun festivals and other social events, an impressive local wine scene, and a pedestrian-friendly downtown perfect for eating and shopping. Though McMinnville’s cost of living is higher than many towns on our list, much of that has to do with the fact that housing here is about 60% higher than the national norm. A one-bedroom apartment, for example, would set one back about $1,020 per month.
George Fox University
Cost of Living: 29.8% higher than the national average; 4% higher than the state average
Located not too far from Portland, Newberg is home to George Fox University. Living here isn’t exactly a bargain, but the town offers its residents attractive scenery, a pedestrian-friendly downtown area, and a vibrant arts and culture scene. Much of Newberg’s higher cost of living is the result of housing costs that average 82% higher than the national norm. Fortunately, these higher costs are [somewhat] tempered by the costs for utilities, entertainment, food, transportation, and healthcare.
9. Forest Grove
Cost of Living: 30.8% higher than the national average; 6.4% higher than the state average
Forest Grove is home to Oregon’s first chartered university, Pacific University. Therefore, Forest Grove is actually the state’s oldest college town — and its best, according to the Portland Business Journal. Though the town is located fewer than 30 miles from Portland, it boasts its own impressive number of great eateries, bike-friendly roads, breweries, shops, and entertainment. Plus, Forest Grove is conveniently located less than one hour’s drive from both the beach and Mt. Hood. Its cost of living is higher than both the country and the state averages, but much of that has to do with housing costs. For example, a one-bedroom in Forest Grove rents for an average of $1,020 per month, about $130 less than in Portland.
Southern Oregon State University
Cost of Living: 39.7% higher than the national average; 15.3% higher than the state average
Although it’s home to Southern Oregon State University, the cute little college town of Ashland may perhaps be better known for its world-famous annual Shakespeare Festival. Residents living in Ashland have plenty of access to arts and culture. There are also myriad outdoor recreational activities possible in the nearby mountains and forests. Ashland’s cost of living averages about 40% higher than the national average. As is the case with most college towns, the biggest cost difference is housing. At 144% higher than the national norm, housing can be a bit of a challenge for college students. For example, a one-bedroom apartment in Ashland averages $830 per month, while a two-bedroom averages about $1,100. Fortunately, Ashland’s other cost-of-living categories average much closer to the typical U.S. costs, with many categories (healthcare, utilities, transportation, and entertainment) even averaging lower than usual.
So what is Oregon’s most expensive college town? That would be Portland, which has a cost of living about 47.8% higher than the national average.