Education Quality Index score:
Ames can seem like a bit of a one-horse town from a distance, but Iowa State University isn't such a bad horse to have pulling your economy. The university's connections to the Department of Agriculture's National Animal Disease Center and the Department of Energy's Ames research and development laboratory have helped make the federal government one of the city's largest and most stable employers. Housing the state's Department of Transportation doesn't hurt Ames' employment situation, either, but it also hasn't done much to make it more convenient.
While Ames is one of the least-walkable American Dream cities, with 45% of its residents needing a car just to accomplish basic tasks, its downtown is a bit more dense and the Campustown neighborhood near ISU has all the apartments, bars and restaurants a student or post-collegian in arrested development could ask for.
To offset the inconvenience, Ames residents get a whole lot for very little. The median home price hovers around $164,000, while the median family income is near the top of our cities list at $74,000. The city, meanwhile, repays residents by providing the best-quality education of any of the 10 cities we've featured. Its Fellows Elementary School, Ames Middle School and Ames High School all got perfect scores from GreatSchools, which provides K-12 quality few of its peers can claim.