Delaware's sixth largest city was recently ranked No. 6 out of 35 Delaware cities and towns as an ideal location for young families, according to a recent study released by the financial literacy web site NerdWallet.com.
The study collected data concerning public school ratings, average home values, cost of living, income and economic growth in cities and found that Milford's income growth and cost of living make it an ideal location for young families looking for a rural feel.
Milford beat out Selbyville, Harrington, Smyrna and Georgetown on study's top 10 list, but fell behind Millsboro, Middletown, Clayton, Camden and Hockessin, respectively.
NerdWallet Analyst Mike Anderson said Milford ranked so highly because of the affordability of homes, with Milford's median home value at $196,100.
Anderson continued to explain that Selbyville, the No. 7 ranking town, has a higher median home value but Milford residents have a comparable, but slightly higher income average and lower mortgage payments.
Milford residents have also experienced a 36.3-percent increase in income growth from 1999 to 2011, according to the study, now bringing in a median average income of $44,316. And with monthly owners costs at $1,448, Milford seems like an attractive location for families just starting out.
"When you compare the 2011 income to 1999, we're tracking if it's grown," Anderson said. "If it has, it suggests the economy is doing well and will continue to do well. Income growth shows that jobs there are stable and continuing to improve."
However, Milford's school rating is the principal data point that kept the city from ranking higher than No. 6, Anderson said.
The NerdWallet study looked at data provided by the nonprofit GreatSchools, which rates schools solely based on standardized test scores. GreatSchools looks at the local DCAS averages compared to state testing averages to assign a rating on a scale of one to 10. Anderson said this is the only way to compare school districts "apples to apples."
Milford School District received a rating of 7 based on standardized test scores, with Mispillion Elementary receiving the low score of 5 and Benjamin Banneker Elementary receiving an above average score of 9. Milford High School was not included in the study.
While Anderson said the school rating kept Milford from ranking more highly, the rating received is an above-average score, he said.
Milford School District Director of Student Support Sylvia Henderson said she believes that the schools are one of the community's strengths.
"We have some of the best schools in the state," Henderson said. "I'm a little disappointed with a 7, I would have liked to see us ranked as a 9 or 10. Anyone actively involved in our schools would see we're a 9 or 10."
The GreatSchools rating for Delaware schools is based solely on DCAS test scores, according to GreatSchools.com spokesman Alan Simpson, and Henderson said that basing a district's rating solely on those test scores does not provide an accurate reflection.
Page 2 of 2 - "If they would have surveyed our parents, students and staff − those are the key people that make our district so wonderful − you would have seen a higher ranking," Henderson said. "If any of those surveyors walk through our building, they would definitely rank us higher."
Milford resident Jennifer White said the schools, especially the teachers, are what is most attractive about Milford.
"I like the schools, they introduced my sons to groups like National Honors Society," White said. "Especially being a minority, the [school] has opened up a lot of opportunities for my son. I don't think he would have gotten that anywhere else."
White, who has three children ages 4 to 12, said the extracurricular events provided by the school and the city's Parks and Recreation Department also makes Milford attractive for her family.
"There're a whole lot of activities available to the kids," she said. "It keeps them out of trouble."
City Manager Richard Carmean, who has lived in Milford for more than 40 years, said he agrees with most of what the study highlighted.
"There's not everything here [in Milford] I'd like to see as far as retail, but it really has a kind of rural feel," Carmean said. "A lot of towns, even towns smaller than this, people don't seem to interact like they do in Milford. It's homey. It's an easy feeling. Kids seem to thrive here and families seem to thrive here."