Top education towns 2011: Median home prices under $100,000

From the Northwest coastline to the Ozark mountains, these top 10 cities offer affordable homes and stellar school districts.

By GreatSchools Staff

Pullman, WA

Education quality score: 81.23
Median home value: $91,280
Population: 26,642


This small prairie town, named after George Pullman, inventor of the railroad's "sleeping car," prides itself on other claims to fame, including colorful celebrities who've spent formative years here, like Microsoft's Paul Allen, cartoonist Gary Larson, psychedelic guru Timothy Leary, and NFL quarterback John Elway. In 2011, Bloomberg Business ranked Pullman as the best small town in Washington to raise kids, and it's easy to see why. Pullman's Washington State University campus, a near-invisible crime rate, a regional hospital that is consistently rated in the top three percent nationally, a youthful population (average age is a mere 22), and thriving technology companies in the area's Palouse Knowledge Corridor all contribute to Pullman's appeal.

But the best reason to put down roots here? The public schools, which the local Chamber of Commerce says is the #1 reason to live in this education-loving town. Pullman High School's 707 students earn Washington test scores that are among the highest in the state, especially in the parent-pleasing category of "Listening,” Students preparing for college can enroll in "Running Start" honors and Advanced Placement courses. There's a Future Farmers of America program for kids seeking livelihood in the local agricultural fields, including an annual "Lentil Festival" that serves 500 gallons of chili.

Learn more about schools in Pullman, WA.

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Ames, IA

Education quality score: 80.58
Median home value: $82,170
Population: 55,817


A thriving job market, urban and rural attractions, safe neighborhoods, and yep, top schools. What's not to love about this bustling hotspot in the affordable heartland? Located along the Skunk River, Ames was rated #9 on CNN Money's 2010 "Best Places to Live". It boasts the lowest unemployment on this list — a mere 3.5 percent — and there's also more ethnic diversity than most of the towns on our lists, with Asian-Americans making up 7.7 percent of the population.

Iowa State University of Science and Technology stimulates the local economy, employing 9,000 workers, primarily in agricultural and biotech positions. Friendly Ames is also the manufacturing home of Ball jars and Barilla pasta. But it's not all business and no play in Ames. There are 36 parks, a new aquatic center, and particularly family-friendly neighborhoods. Famous sons and daughters of Ames include inventor George Washington Carver, writers Jane Smiley and Neal Stephenson, and TV producer Jane Espenson of "Battlestar Galactica."

Public schools here are astonishingly successful, especially Ames High School. This "Silver Medal" school (US News & World Report, 2008) had 16 National Merit Finalists in 2011. Its 74-acre campus boasts a 20-acre natural prairie reserve, a congenial 24 to 1 student-teacher ratio, a 1261 SAT average, and a 93 percent graduation rate. Ranked as one of the state's top four high schools, in 2008 Newsweek named this top-notch institution in the top 5 percent nationwide.

Learn more about schools in Ames, IA.

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Searcy, AR

Education quality score: 79.70
Median home price: $58,410
Population: 21,276

"Where thousands live as millions wish they could," is the motto of this vibrant Ozark town that offers the most affordable homes on this list. Natural attractions like Little Red River, Greers Ferry Lake, St. Francis Forest, and balmy summer nights coexist comfortably here with civilized advantages, including five colleges in a 50-mile radius, a natural gas industry, 1,100 computers in Searcy's public school system, and Yarnell Ice Cream — the regional favorite.

Consistently ranked among the state's top ten districts, Searcy offers an outstanding education at every age level. Westside Elementary School is a primary grade standout and Ahlf Junior High School's Quiz Bowl team recently won the state championship! Searcy High School — awarded a Bronze Medal by U.S. News & World Report (2010) — boasts enthusiastic parental involvement and an active student government. Harding Academy (a private, K-12) is an excellent college prep associated with the Churches of Christ.

Learn more about schools in Searcy, AR.

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Biloxi, MS

Education quality score: 79.16
Median home price: $95,440
Population: 43,910

Hurricane Katrina battered this Gulf Coast town and destroyed the public library, but the buoyant public education system remains afloat at its 15 schools, especially at the elementary level. North Bay Elementary School, Gorenflo Elementary School, Jeff Davis Elementary School, and Popps Ferry Elementary School are admirable primaries, and supporters are striving mightily to reopen Nichols Elementary School, which was closed last year due to budget constraints. More diverse than most on this list, the population of Biloxi is 71.43 percent white, 19 percent African-American, and 5.11 percent Asian-American.

Biloxi itself is a vacation destination teeming with charm. The ex-capital of French Louisiana offers sports fishing, ecotourism, bird watching, shrimping, alligator ranches, French colonial architecture, the Biloxi Lighthouse, and eight first-class gambling casinos. Notables in its 300-year-old history include rebel Jefferson Davis, singer Jimmy Buffet, and actors Eric Roberts and Jessica Alba. What happened to the library? It's now spread out in five locations, including two temporary trailers. Put on your sunglasses and study in the sunshine!

Learn more about schools in Biloxi, MS.

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Eastlake, OH

Education quality score: 78.98
Median home price: $98,010
Population: 19,403

Patriotism waves proudly in this blue-collar Cleveland suburb that boasts a "Boulevard of 500 Flags," a 9/11 Memorial, plus civic celebrations on Veteran's Day, Pearl Harbor Day, Memorial Day, and 9/11. Other regional boasts include a microscopic crime rate and house owner-occupancy of 78 percent. Another advantage of this outdoorsy and self-proclaimed "Crown Jewel of Lake Country": As the name suggests, Eastlake offers plenty of opportunity for water recreation along pretty Chagrin River, which feeds into nearby Lake Erie. If you're a land-lover, there's a plethora of parks, including a skateboarding park, dog park, and no end of fields for team sports.

Eastlake also successfully instructs the next generation of U.S. citizens at its five high-quality schools, which, as part of the Willoughby-Eastlake City School District have been rated "Excellent" by the Ohio Department of Education for five years in a row. Jefferson Elementary School, top-rated Longfellow Elementary School, and Washington Elementary School have lofty goals, offering a "Zenith" program for gifted and talented children. North High School encourages extracurricular activities, with enthusiastic support for football, baseball, and basketball.

Learn more about schools in Eastlake, OH.
 

Aliquippa, PA

Education quality score: 78.29
Median home price: $67,520
Population: 10,582

Originally named after a Seneca Indian queen, this ex-steel center on the Ohio River goes by the nickname "Quip Town." Aliquippans built ships and tanks for the World War II effort, but the area's economy evaporated when the mills shut down in the 1980's. Today, Aliquippa is a racially diverse town with a 35.52 percent African-American population, and it offers the second-best housing bargain on this list.

Aliquippa has produced gargantuan figures in music and sports. Composer Henry Mancini resided here, plus gridiron giants Mike DItka and Tony Dorsett, and hoops legend "Pistol" Pete Maravich. Educational stardom is also in evidence in Aliquippa, which maintains academic excellence despite the depressed economy.

Hopewell Senior High School is perennially recognized by the Pennsylvania Department of Education as a "Keystone Achievement School,” the hardy students of Aliquippa Elementary School recently boasted perfect attendance in all classrooms for nine consecutive weeks, and the entire community is involved in the recent Extreme Academic Makeover program to raise student’s test scores. Generosity is part of the local culture, too: Students pitched in to help cash-strapped community members with a food drive that gathered over 2,600 cans.

To learn more about schools in Aliquippa, PA.

 

 

Morgantown, WV

Education quality score: 78.12
Median home price: $94,840
Population: 30,260

If the town's name sounds familiar, there's a reason: After her stint as a student here, Joni Mitchell penned the song, "Morning Morgantown." This West Virginia village, with its relaxed and rural feel, gets plenty of accolades for being a supremely liveable town: It's selected as the "Best Walking City in West Virginia" (Prevention magazine, 2008), "Fifth Best Boomtown in the USA" (Inc.com, 2009), and earned mention as a Top Ten "Well City" from the Wellness Councils of America, due to its safety-conscious workplaces. Miles of scenic waterside trails invite bikers, hikers, and rollerbladers, plus there's a futuristic "people mover" — one of only five automated urban system in the U.S.— that intertwines the community with the West Virginia University campus.

The 18 public schools maintain the community's dedication to enriching the body and mind. Cheat Lake Middle School has 44 student organizations. There's a speech and debate team, a robotics club, a literary magazine, a green initiative, and a basketball team that stuffs all its rivals. Morgantown High School has averaged ten National Merit Finalists every year for the past 20 years.

Learn more about schools in Morgantown, WV.

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Bowling Green, OH

Education quality score: 77.95
Median home price: $68,610
Population: 30,464

Bowling Green might be set on the edge of the creepy sounding Great Black Swamp, but your children won't get sucked under academically in this (decidedly un-creepy) college town. Bowling Green State University keeps life here bright and youthful — 46.6 percent of the population is between 18-24 years old. Parties abound in this friendly town that hosts the National Tractor Pulling Championship, the Wood County Fair, the Black Swamp Arts Festival, and Winterfest, which features ice sculptures and figure skating. Brains are whirling too. Ohio's first "wind farm" for turbine electric power is a local attraction and an impetus for green energy.

Bowling Green High School offers a large honors curriculum with the ambitious option of taking college credit classes at either the state university, or through nearby Oberlin College's Ocean program. The school also offers excellent arts opportunities, including a prints and metals class, an orchestra, and a Thespian Society. Conneaut Elementary School’s principal, Lorraine Flick, runs the best-rated primary school in the district; she promises to “help all learners be the best person he/she can be.”

Learn more about schools in Bowling Green, OH.

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Cookeville, TN

Education quality score: 77.62
Median home price: $96,820
Population: 27,040

Nicknamed "Cookietown," this bite-sized suburb-cum-college town is also a manufacturing hub conveniently equidistant from Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga. The youthful residents of the rapidly growing Cookeville include Tennessee Technology University's 12,518 students, plus pupils at Nashville State Community College, Tennessee Bible College, and Medvance Institute.

Public schools in this low-cost area offer high-value academics. Capshaw Elementary School, Northeast Elementary School, Dodson Branch Elementary School, Cane Creek Elementary School, and Algood Elementary School are all top-rated primaries, and Avery Trace Middle School has an outdoor classroom/amphitheater, constructed by an Eagle Scout alumnus. Cookeville High School provides stellar sports teams, JROTC, and the fast-track International Baccalaureate Program that aims "to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding." But the head of the class is Dry Valley Alternative School, a public K-12 with only around 60 students who excel in language, science, and reading, and score more than twice the national average in each of these categories.

Learn more about schools in Cookeville, TN.

Photo credit: SeeMidTN.com (aka Brent) 

 

 

Fairmont, WV

Education quality score: 77.26
Median home price: $80,880
Population: 18,967

Fairmont Senior High School students ruminate luxuriously in their magnificent 1928 Colonial Revival schoolhouse that is perched in rolling hills of maple, oak, and dogwood trees, with a cascading waterfall. Perhaps the most beautiful campus in the country, Fairmont Senior High is on the National Register of Historic Places. This elegantly inspiring academy of 900 students also showcases a faculty where 89 percent have completed, or are working on, master's degrees. Local heroine and Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton recently returned here to raise her four daughters in Fairmont's top-tier schools. For the younger set, East Dale Elementary School offers reading enrichment, and East Fairmount Junior High School scores above the state average in every category.

The town of Fairmont started Father's Day to commemorate the 250 local dads who died in the Menagah Mining Disaster of 1907. Happier attractions include Volcano Island Water Park, the Johnnie Johnson Blues & Jazz Festival, and Fairmont State University. Fairmount’s also an employment hub, due to its location on West Virginia’s I-79 High Tech Corridor. All this in an attractive Monongahela River setting. with gracious residents who have justifiably earned the town the nickname, “The Friendly City.”

Learn more about schools in Fairmont, WV.

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