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Back September 22nd, 2016 Forward
Help sought from US-based or US-knowledgeable folks - Which state should I put a university?

I'm working on a piece of fanfic which is essentially a university AU. I'm gathering together a group of diverse characters from various US states, and sending them to a fictional university, located in one of: Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Illinois, Nebraska, or Kansas.

Now, there are certain plot constraints on me with regards to this. Firstly, my characters come from a variety of US states - Arkansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, California, New Mexico, New York. The majority of them don't have that much money (middle class income range), and aren't going to go too far from home for college unless there's a good reason to do so (scholarships, good reputation of the institution, good job prospects etc). I have a couple of wealthy outliers who are basically going there either as a result of parental interference, or because that's where all their friends wound up, and who don't particularly care about distance. I also have one low-income outlier (from Arkansas) who has wound up going there because he moved to the city this university is located in (a fictional city - so I need to be able to dump a city of about 200,000 - 500,000 people down in the state I choose as well, without distorting things too much) in order to find work. But the majority of my characters need to be within one or two states of their home state, purely for family reasons.

Other plot constraints:
* My character who moved to find work has some back-story which requires that he's in an "at will" state when it comes to employment (basically, he's been fired by a former employer on incredibly slim-to-nonexistent grounds).
* The state in question needs to have a rather flexible attitude toward non-heterosexual couples (it's fanfic, there's a lot of slashy pairings, I want somewhere my characters could realistically hold hands or be out and visibly "together" in public without getting beaten up for it). I'm planning on putting at least two gay clubs in the city the university is based in. (Kansas falls down badly in this regard).
* The state needs to have poor anti-stalking laws (there should be the recognition of stalking as a crime, but it shouldn't be taken overly seriously by the local law enforcement until it results in something like assault).
* I'd prefer not to be trying to make my fictional city usurp the role of an existing major city (I don't want to be, for example, substituting this city for Chicago in Illinois); I'd also prefer not to be writing this university as an existing university with the serial numbers filed off (mostly because my knowledge of US universities and colleges is basically what I've seen on television and in films from the eighties...).
* Since one of my characters is basically going to be present on a football scholarship, I'm wanting to put the university in a state where there aren't existing top-ranking teams, to explain why he's there rather than elsewhere.
* There needs to be the conceptual "space", so to speak, for the fictional university I'm writing about to be a top-flight institution, on a par with MIT, Harvard, Berkeley and so on academically.
* The university is going to have a policy which explicitly works to block under-age alcohol consumption (different coloured ID cards for students who aren't "of age", and a level of "town & gown" co-operation where it's understood by the local bartenders that if you serve someone who's under-age from this university, you're going to lose custom from the university) which are encouraged by the local law enforcement and civic authorities. (Which is where Missouri loses points)

So, what I'm after is any information from people who have more local knowledge than I do (Western Australian, never been anywhere near any of these places) which could help me make my choice. At present, my knowledge of these places is limited to what I've been able to pick up from scanning the general Wikipedia articles about them. Any help at all would be appreciated.

Edited to add: If you have any ideas about where else I could ask for assistance, that will be gratefully accepted as well.

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