America's Best Bargain College Towns for Boomers

Growing up in the Bay Area of northern California, there were two-lane roads, very little traffic on the Bayshore Freeway (Hwy 101), and fruit orchards galore. The Pepsi Generation was just getting started building Apple computers, and hard drive still meant a long day out on the road. Now, I'm 50 years old, my home turf is called Silicon Valley, and instead of cola kid, they call me a baby boomer. And as I get older, I won't retire in the traditional sense like my parents. Instead of playing bridge or golf at the country club, I conduct conference calls, send emails, check my tee time on my PDAcell phone, and catch bits and snatches of news via satellite radio in my Lexus SC430 while grabbing a Venti, nonfat, decaf, one pump, no whip Mocha at the Starbuck's drive-thru.

Slow down Not a chance! Like most boomers, I'm ready to start something new, and I want to do it in a mid-sized town that has an overall mild climate, lots of educational opportunities, plenty of local andor university-based arts and culture, and a cost of living that is equal to or below the national average cost of living. Utilizing statistical and anecdotal data, the staff at determined three of America's best bargain college towns for boomers.

Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Population 46,700

Average Home Price $115,000

Average Annual Precipitation 58 inches

Average Temps July - 92; Jan - 37

Grand old homes stand among majestic oak trees; Spanish moss clings desperately to hickory and magnolia trees; and trickling streams slowly manipulate their way through the De Soto National Forest. In addition to a cost of living that appeals to even the most frugal, and nearly perfect year-round temperatures, Hattiesburg is an ideal place for people to explore their education potential. These opportunities are as close as the University of Southern Mississippi, where the Institute for Learning in Retirement encourages lifelong learning; and William Carey College, which offers several different curriculums, from liberal and fine arts to business. Cultural channels exist at USM as well. The Degrummond Children's Literature Museum houses 65,000 children's books; and the Museum of Art welcomes over 20,000 visitors annually. For a delightful evening of live entertainment, choose from over 300 concerts, recitals, and theatrical productions annually at the College of Arts and Letters. The number of doctors and specialists serving the residents here has earned Hattiesburg a top ten health care ranking among small cities. With below-average cost of living and housing prices, this bargain-hunter's delight offers innumerable opportunities for higher education.

Silver City, New Mexico

Population 10,000

Median Home Price $180,000

Average Annual Precipitation 15 inches

Average Temps July - 87; Jan - 24

Dark, billowing clouds that cover Silver City on summer afternoons cast ominous shadows across the mountains and plains, presenting a variety of multihued colors in the evening's brilliant sunset. More than three million acres of the Gila wilderness awaits the hiker, mountain biker, camper, or wildlife observer, and plenty of lakes are strewn about the gorgeous desert terrain. The landscape draws people here, but its low property taxes, attractive housing costs, a state-of-the-art health center, and top-notch university keep them here. The silver rush has dissipated, and nowadays, residents enjoy jazz and blues festivals, the Big Ditch Arts Fest, and the Gila Bird and Nature Fest. One of the more popular attractions to Silver City is Western New Mexico University, offering vibrant cultural activities as well as an extensive continuing education program, including Elderhostel, directed toward mature adults. Mild temperatures, first-rate educational opportunities, and a stunning environment make Silver City a perfect spot for the 50+ population.

Olympia, Washington

Population 42,500

Average Home Price $259,000

Average Annual Precipitation 51 inches

Average Temps July - 78; Jan - 31

With the snow-capped peak of Mount Ranier in the background, Olympia sits alongside the unspoiled waters of Puget Sound. Evergreen trees add to the city's splendor, and residents enjoy Olympia's relatively limited growth. Olympia offers rich cultural experiences featuring the State Capitol Museum, northwest Native American art exhibits, and the bi-annual arts celebration, the Art Walk. With three colleges in the area, there are opportunities aplenty for those who want to continue where they left off. Whether artistic, environmental, technological, or scientific, education is a top priority with low student-to-teacher ratios, high standards, and strong dedication to students. Though the cost of living may be a bit higher, average income levels are in the top third of the country. Residents take comfort in knowing that the crime rate is well below the national average, ranking 78th. The natural beauty, affordability, and educational offerings give just a glimpse of the Evergreen Capital's appeal.