Jenny Lavey

(UM News Service) Missoula, home to the University of Montana, has landed on top of a national list for its fun factor.

In a survey conducted by SmartAsset, a national financial information marketplace, data was analyzed from the U.S. Census Bureau and MIT to appraise the best places for new college graduates. CNBC published the survey results in September.

According to the data and methodology, for those aged 20 to 29 with a college degree, Missoula is the place to be for entertainment. The survey’s “fun” measure included local demographic and business metrics that evaluated social potential based on population aged 20-29; the number of restaurants and bars per-capita; and entertainment venues.

“Missoula’s vibrancy and cultural depth – for a town its size – is one of the greatest assets to UM,” said Jenny Petty, UM vice president of marketing. “Universities should work in deep parallel with their surrounding municipalities when it comes to values, opportunities and personality of place. UM just happens to be located in one of the most unique entertainment hubs in the Rockies and we’re going to continue to leverage and celebrate that.”

Missoula’s colorful atmosphere most certainly has impact on enrollment, as the University places the city’s access to wilderness, concerts, diversity of population and public transportation as part of the UM experience.

UM has also created new traditions and events that provide an experience into Missoula’s entertainment amenities. For example, the University developed an annual Freshman Float experience that connects first-year students with Missoula’s river recreation and UM’s first-year student orientation includes the Big Sky Experience, where students work alongside and volunteer with community organizations.

The SmartAsset survey also scoured data from the online jobs site ZipRecuriter that found nearly half of 2023 college graduates report being willing to relocate to a new city for work or additional education. The survey also found that in response pandemic cultural shifts and the rise of remote work, the youngest members of the workforce are willing to live in smaller cities.

“Today’s college graduates are confronting an uncertain economy, inflation and rising costs of living,” said LeAnn Meyer, director of UM Alumni Relations and President of the Alumni Association. “Many are choosing to move to smaller cities after graduation. Missoula fits that bill for a small-town feel, with the entertainment landscape of a metro area and ample recreation. It’s the best of both worlds and we’re getting that feedback from young alumni and new students.”

Many students report musical acts promoted by Missoula’s Logjam Presents and the unique concert venues like the KettleHouse Amphitheater and The Wilma offer a vibrancy to their campus experience. Students also report using and enjoying Missoula’s bikeable mobility and available resources provided by Home Resource and FreeCycles, in addition to a host of year-round activities through the Missoula Downtown Partnership and Missoula Downtown Association.

“What we’re starting to see is that students in a post-pandemic world are looking and expecting much more from institutions in terms of community, availability and interests,” Mary Kreta, UM vice president for Enrollment Management and Strategic Initiatives. “When you’re located in a town like Missoula, all of those elements are an asset to the college experience.”

In September, UM reported its largest incoming class in seven years, with a 12.5% increase in Montana-resident first-year students. UM’s student body is now 66.5% Montana residents. Additionally, enrollment figures are up for Native students, Missoula College and first-generation students.