Check out these selections, which can be had relatively inexpensively as used models.
The Mazda3 comes as a sporty sedan or a five-door hatch, with the latter version offering 43.8 cubic feet of cargo space for stuff that students haul. Along with its sporty driving characteristics, it offers terrific fuel economy from the late 2000s models, garnering about 28 mpg highway from the four-cylinder engine.
The Toyota Corolla is one of the standard bearers among small cars, and with good reason. It has an outstanding reliability record (with only a few exceptions) and gets great gas mileage.
Continuing the theme of reliable vehicles with good gas mileage, the Focus makes sense on many levels, and can be had for a reasonable price for late 2000s model year versions.