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Sunday September 24, 2017
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Island Hopping



Towns shaped by higher education, Gumprecht argues, are a distinctly American phenomenon. European universities usually were founded in large cities where students and faculty made up only a small percentage of the population. From Harvard on, in contrast, American college founders preferred smaller settings--"sequestered," in the words of Princeton's first trustees, "from the various temptations attending the promiscuous converse with the world."

The towns that grew up around America's colleges, Gumprecht writes, have more in common with one another than with their urban neighbors. They're better educated, of course, but also younger, more transient, more expensive, and more cosmopolitan. "In college towns like Ann Arbor," he writes, "public radio listenership is so high that conversations around the water cooler are more likely to be about what people heard on Morning Edition than The Howard Stern Show."

Gumprecht sees college towns as an "academic archipelago" within American society. A happy island dweller himself, he describes arriving in Norman, Oklahoma, where he lived with his then-wife and young son in the 1990s while earning his PhD at the University of Oklahoma:

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