We investigate how the presence of a college affects local educational attainment. As counterfactuals for current college locations, we use historical “runner-up” locations that were strongly considered to become college sites but were ultimately not chosen. We find that winning counties today have college degree attainment rates 56% higher than runner-up counties and more private-sector employment in human-capital-intensive industries. These effects are not driven primarily by recent in-migration of educated adults, and alternative public investments did not have similar effects on local educational attainment. The results indicate that colleges played an important role in shaping long-run local outcomes.