Retire Well

Want to retire and then hit the books? 10 great college towns for retirees

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Once new retirees wrap up their longtime careers, they can get down to the business of serious relaxation ... or, alternately, the pursuit of further knowledge. When better to take that adult education course, pursue an advanced degree or delve into an entirely new field of study than retirement, when your time is largely your own? And where better to retire, then, than near a center of higher education? Incidentally, personal finance website has found that all the best places to retire in the U.S. just happen to be college towns.

As the site notes, big cities may boast a lot of retiree-friendly amenities, cultural outlets and health-care options but they're also "really pricey." Small towns in America may be a lot cheaper, but likely won't offer retirees much to do. College towns, on the other hand, are what calls the perfect balance.

"They tend to feature a wider variety of cultural attractions, but many are also located in relatively small cities in inexpensive states," according to the website. What's more, there's lot of continuing education on offer. The following, in alphabetical order, are 10 of the 15 U.S. college towns the website names as best suited to retirees. (The other five are Bozeman, Montana; Bloomington, Indiana; Fayetteville, Arkansas; Lexington, Kentucky; and Tuscaloosa, Alabama.)

Athens, Georgia

City Hall, Athens, Georgia.
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• University: University of Georgia

The University of Georgia stakes claim to the title of first public university founded in the U.S., way back in 1785. Retirees settling in Athens, population 125,000-plus, can get a sense of that history for themselves with visits to the city's historic house museums or the Georgia Museum of Art.

East Lansing, Michigan

Michigan State University's Beaumont Tower.
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• University: Michigan State University

Higher education has been big business in East Lansing since 1855, when Michigan State was founded. In fact, the area was actually known as "Collegeville" until awarded its current moniker in 1907. When class is not in session, students of all ages can attend concerts at Wharton Center, peruse two local horticultural gardens (one being the nation's oldest) and admire the holdings at the university's Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum.

Iowa City, Iowa

The Old Capitol at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
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• University: University of Iowa

The cost of living in Iowa falls below the national average, according to GoBankingRates. But Iowa City — home to the University of Iowa Hawkeyes and nearly 76,000 inhabitants — is above-average when it comes to educational things to do in retirement. Study 375 million-year-old fossils at the Devonian Fossil Gorge, trawl the city's Museum of Natural History or even butterfly-spot at the annual Monarch Festival.

Kalamazoo, Michigan

Downtown Kalamazoo, Michigan.
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• University: Western Michigan University

There's plenty to do in Kalamazoo, such as visits to Bell's Brewery, the Kalamazoo Air Zoo, the Gilmore Car Museum and the W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary. The city of some 75,000 is also home to four campuses of Western Michigan University. Budget-wise, Kalamazoo is easy on retiree pocketbooks; GoBankingRates found that Michigan residents pay 10.3 percent less, on average, for common living expenses than other Americans.

Lawrence, Kansas

Massachusetts Street and University of Kansas main campus, in downtown Lawrence, Kansas.
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• University: University of Kansas

GoBankingRates cites educational walks in the Prairie Park Nature Center and Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area, along with instrument lessons at the Americana Music Academy, as some of the many charms of Lawrence, which is also home to the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University. KU offers a robust professional and continuing education program.

Lincoln, Nebraska

Capitol Building in Lincoln, Nebraska.
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• University: University of Nebraska

Lincoln is one of the 50 cheapest places to retire in America, GoBankingRates says. In addition, it's home to the University of Nebraska, no slouch in the higher-education field. After classes, newly transplanted senior Lincolnites can revert to expected retiree form and take in a classic golden years activity such as 18 holes at the Hidden Valley Golf Club.

Madison, Wisconsin

Bike path, Madison, Wisconsin.
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• University: University of Wisconsin

Life is lovely in the scenic capital of Wisconsin, which sits on an isthmus between two lakes and is home to the flagship campus of the University of Wisconsin system, one of the nation's so-called "Public Ivies." The university offers 9,000-plus courses; more than 200 undergraduate majors and certificates; in excess of 250 master's, doctoral and professional programs; and a faculty of more than 2,000 experts.

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When retiree students get their noses out of their lesson books, they can take in painting and sculpture at the Museum of Contemporary Art, concerts and plays at the Overture Center for the Arts, and horticulture at the Olbrich Botanical Gardens.

Oxford, Mississippi

Town center of historical Oxford, Mississippi.
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• University: University of Mississippi

The Magnolia State offers the lowest cost of living in the country, making it an ideal retirement destination. The town of Oxford, home to nearly 24,000 and the University of Mississippi campus, "could be just the place to take advantage of those low costs," says Think live music at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts or independent bookstores such as Square Books in the hometown of not only "Ole Miss" but author William Faulkner, too.

Oxford, Ohio

Uptown High Street in Oxford, Ohio.
Tmariemdith — Own Work/Wikimedia Commons

• University: Miami University

No, you're not seeing double. Institutions of higher learning apparently gravitate to towns named Oxford. Another double-take: Miami University. The Oxford, Ohio, school was founded before the home of that other Miami — Florida — was a state. It may not boast any coconut palms, but the university's location since its founding in 1809 is "scenic and beautiful," according to GoBankingRates, "offers plenty to do for students and area residents alike, and is located in Ohio, where the median home price is just $130,300."

San Marcos, Texas

The Hays County Courthouse Historic District in San Marcos, Texas.
Larry D. Moore — Own Work/Wikimedia Commons

• University: Texas State University

Texas State University calls historical San Marcos — a half hour's drive south of Austin, and one hour north of San Antonio — home. Retirees perhaps interested in potentially opening a business and having a second career in retirement after graduation will find themselves located in the state with the best cities in the nation for entrepreneurs and small businesses.