Colleges & universities: a constant in American history | by David A. Tomar
The United States is a place of awe-inspiring variety, encompassing 50 remarkable (and remarkably different) states. From the establishment of America’s first permanent colony in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607 to Alaska’s 1959 accession to statehood, there have been few constants. Independence, Civil War, and Civil Rights have ensured, often for the better, that we are in a state of perpetual change. Yet, through it all, indeed often at the center of this change, America’s colleges and universities have played a central and constant role.
See how #HigherEd began in each state, the oldest universities, & where they are now…See each state’s higher education history, how they began, their oldest universities, & where they are now. As the United States has evolved, so too has its storied tradition of higher education. For more than a century before the Founding Fathers waged a Revolution against the British Crown, they and their forebears studied the great democracies of history past, the philosophical tenets of thinkers before them, and the principals of modern politics in the world around them, all within the walls of what are now considered America’s greatest universities (cf. The American Colonists Library).
In the first decades of American settlement, most institutions of higher learning were dedicated to religious study. Often founded as seminaries by which clergy could be trained for service in the New World, quite a few of these would go on to become among the finest educational institutions in the world, not to mention hotbeds for political action as America’s colonies inched toward self-determination.
The seeds of Revolution were sown in the hallowed halls of Harvard University (founded in 1636), The College of William & Mary (est. 1693), and Yale College (est. 1701). So too were the seeds of Southern insurgency sown as the nation churned toward Civil War in rebel colleges like Transylvania University (est. 1780), The University of South Carolina (est. 1801), and the University of Mississippi (est. 1848).
Ironically, it was also in the midst of this terrible and bloody conflict that America passed the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act into law (1862). This legislation, appropriating public funding for schools dedicated to instruction in agriculture and engineering, touched off a wave of state-sponsored university systems, including standout institutions like Cornell University (est. 1865), Purdue University (est. 1869), and The Ohio State University (est. 1870).
During both times of war and peace, America’s colleges and universities have served as a litmus test for where we stand as a culture. Students, faculty, and researchers come together to form communities where the exchange of ideas, the push for innovation, and the goal of collective intellectual growth have placed them at the forefront of America’s development from the declaration of its Independence to the agrarian society which followed; from its commercial industrialization to its technology-driven modernization; from a society defined by unbreakable stratifications to one which strives for inclusion.
Indeed, state by state, the history of higher education is inextricable from the history of this great nation. Of course, there is only one way to experience this history in all its glory…
Alabama is officially nicknamed the Yellowhammer State in tribute to its state bird but its sobriquet as “the Heart of Dixie” is perhaps the more apt descriptor. An anchor of the deep south, Alabama’s educational landscape has historically been defined by agriculture and bible studies. Today, however, Alabama is the site of a varied and thriving higher education system.
Home to 78 colleges and universities—40 public universities and 20 private non-profit institutions—the state can actually trace the roots of its higher education to the days before statehood. Though Alabama became the 22nd state in 1819, the territory’s first plans for the establishment of a “seminary of learning” began in 1818. These early efforts would lead to the 1831 founding of the University of Alabama. The very first students enrolled at the Tuscaloosa-based institution would brave the relative frontier of their fledgling state to travel there, beset as it was by poorly maintained roads, swamps, and malaria.
With more than 36,000 students enrolled as of 2014, UA is the state’s largest campus. It is also, according to U.S. News & World Report, one of the state’s four Top Tier universities, alongside the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), and Auburn University (AU). The last of these, Auburn was founded in 1856 as the East Alabama Male College. Affiliated with the Methodist Episcopal Church, Auburn would actually become the state’s first coeducational four-year school in 1892.
With roughly 140 majors and 300 student-led organizations, Auburn’s 1,800-acre campus is at once one of the best and most affordable college experiences that Alabama has to offer. We would also be severely remiss were we to overlook the proud and permeating tradition of college football that is very much a way of life in Alabama. A fierce cross-state rivalry persists between the Auburn Tigers and the University of Alabama Crimson Tide, both ranked among the Top 20 football programs in the nation. With a seating capacity of 101,821 strong, UA’s Bryant-Denny Stadium is actually the fifth largest arena in the United States.
Of course, gridiron glory is not the only thing that Alabama has to offer its student population. Alabama is home to some of the nation’s finest research institutions as well. Though plans for the University of Alabama were already underway, two institutions actually beat UA to the punch. The University of North Alabama in Florence and Spring Hill College in Mobile both came to be in 1830. In fact, the latter of these is among the oldest Roman Catholic universities in the southeast. Distinguished by its intimate class size and its 12-to-one student-to-faculty ratio, Spring Hill earned a #14 slot on U.S. News & World Report’s 2010 ranking of southern colleges offering both bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
As the most sparsely populated state in the union, Alaska is home to the fewest number of colleges and universities in the U.S (tied with Wyoming). The sum total of its accredited, non-profit post-secondary institutions comes to nine, three of which are subsumed under the University of Alaska umbrella.
The Last Frontier can trace the history of its higher education system as far back as 1922, when the former Russian territory opened the doors to the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines. Located just six miles outside of Fairbanks, the school’s inaugural class was comprised of 13 students. By 1935, the school had become the University of Alaska and was made freely available to residents. Out-of-territory attendees were charged the princely sum of $20 per semester.
Alaska’s most notable four-year institution actually began as a two-year college. The 17,000 that populate the University of Alaska Anchorage today are a far cry from the 400+ that helped open the school as the Anchorage Community College in 1954. Shortly after Alaska’s 1959 ascension to statehood, ACC became one of several community colleges throughout the state to become incorporated under the University of Alaska.
Since that time, the school and its students have benefitted tremendously from their location in Alaska’s most happening city. Four miles from the downtown area and tucked into the lush landscape of Goose Lake Park, UAA offers students a perfect middle ground between metropolis and nature. It should also probably come as no surprise that the school’s Seawolves have produced multiple national championships in skiing.
In case you’ve heard otherwise, be assured that Alaska is cold and snowy much of the time. Which explains why the Nordic Ski Club of the Alaska Pacific University is also among the very best in the world. This tiny liberal arts college of 750 students embodies the pioneer spirit and rugged eccentricity of the state itself, offering a bevy of personalized, self-directed, and unconventional learning opportunities.
Though Alaska’s public school system is comprised of only six public institutions (and three private colleges), prices are comparatively low. As compared to a national average of $8,070 per year for public, in-state tuition, the average Alaskan will pay $6,317.
Arizona is the last of the 48 contiguous states to have joined the U.S., becoming a part of the nation on Valentine’s Day, 1912. Its system of higher education, however, can trace its roots to a time well before the southwestern territory achieved statehood. When the vaunted University of Arizona, Tucson became Arizona’s first post-secondary educational institution in 1885, it was ensconced in desert. Who could have imagined that this educational oasis would one day serve more than 40,000 students while employing more than 2500 staffers?
This top-ranked four-year university is one of 28 public institutions in the state. An additional 13 non-profit private schools draw enrollees from throughout the U.S., with liberal arts institutions like Prescott College standing out for their academic reputation, their varied course offering, and the stunning vistas that surround the 200 acre-campus. With a seven-to-one student to faculty ratio, Prescott provides students with uniquely intimate and inspiring learning environment.
Arizona is also host to one of the nation’s most fertile private, for-profit college scenes, with no fewer than 50 of such institutions dotting the higher education landscape. With leading for-profit college the University of Phoenix making its home in the desert capital, Arizona would become a major catalyst to growth in the for-profit sector. Founded in 1976, the University of Phoenix claimed 600,000 enrollees nationwide at the time of its 2010 peak.
A distinguishing feature of Arizona colleges, aside from the intense heat index, is the exceptionally high proportion of women. In 2012, Arizona topped all other states in the nation with a 61.9% female enrollment. Presumably, this fact has helped to propel the University of Arizona’s Wildcats to an incredible 8 national softball championships in 25 years.
- See who ranks as the best college and university in Arizona today.
- The University of Arizona and Arizona State University both rank among the 100 Best Universities in the World.
In the first several decades of its existence, the state of Arkansas was fueled almost entirely by agriculture. Upon its admission to the United States in 1836, its strategic proximity to the Mississippi River and its thriving plantation system made Arkansas a farming state first and foremost. It was thus that its educational priorities went most unheeded in the era before the Civil War. Through the 1840s and ‘50s, Presbyterian, Methodist, and secular education enthusiasts sponsored the creation of any number of now long-defunct post-secondary institutions.
Notable among these historical footnotes was the Monticello-based Phi Kappa Sigma College—famous as the only American college named exclusively for its sponsoring fraternity—and Cane Hill College—which granted the state’s very first bachelor’s degree in 1859. Political divisions largely prevented such achievements from becoming a regular occurrence until Civil War hostilities subsided. As Arkansas and its fellow confederate states rejoined the Union, so too developed a more intensive focus on higher education.
In 1872, the Arkansas Industrial University housed its first class, though the state’s lack of comprehensive preparatory schooling to that point meant that most of the academic content focused on high school education. The school that would become the University of Arkansas only a few years hence was inaugurated with a class of eight pupils, including James McGahee, the school’s first African American graduate. The University has seen just a bit of growth since then, boasting 25,000 enrollees and access to more than 200 unique degree programs.
The University of Arkansas is distinguished both as one of the nation’s Top 50 pubic universities and as home to the Razorbacks, whose men’s basketball and football teams have combined for the most national championships of any school in the Southeastern Conference. The University of Arkansas stands alongside Arkansas State University, Arkansas Tech University, and the University of Central Arkansas as tops among the state’s 33 public colleges and universities.
Arkansas offers its in state residents a comparatively affordable public college experience at an average rate of $6,604 per year, which falls below the national average of $8,070.
On the private front, Arkansas boasts 14 non-profit private colleges. Perhaps most notable among them is the Hendrix College, which has drawn students from throughout the nation since its establishment in a year that America was at once rebuilding from war and celebrating its centennial. Today, the regionally diverse campus just outside of Little Rock is widely recognized as one of the top private liberal arts institutions in the country.
Like the state itself, California’s buffet of educational offerings is expansive, varied, and colorful. As the most populous state in the U.S. as well as the most economically fertile, California is also home to a formidable population of college and university students. Indeed, California is the site of literally hundreds of private schools while each division of its public higher education system is the largest of its kind in the nation.
With more than 200,000 students enrolled across the University of California’s ten campuses as of 2011, an additional 430,000 at the California State Universities, and a remarkable 2.6 million studying at any of the state’s 112 community colleges, California’s higher education system is the largest in the U.S. These three major divisions of public college are the product of The California Master Plan for Higher Education, an encompassing policy authored in 1960 to guarantee free college admission to all California students who aspired thereto.
The result of this legislation would be an absolute explosion in California’s population of college and graduate-educated students. Indeed, there are some who would argue that this policy played a significant part in helping California to become one of the most dynamic standalone economies in the world (let alone in the United States). Today, countless other states have aspired to this model by increasing the accessibility of community colleges and strengthening pathways from public school to public postsecondary education. With 150 public institutions and 153 non-profit private schools, California offers its residents more options than any other state in the nation.
Of course, some California colleges are tougher to get into than others. The state’s top school—and one of the top schools in the world—Stanford University is located in the heart of the Silicon Valley. Contextualized by this singularly innovative and exciting region, Stanford is unique for having been founded as a secular institution in 1891. This distinctly unaffiliated status allowed Stanford to evolve into one of the nations’ boldest and most diverse research universities. Indeed, the higher level of academic and intellectual discourse here is borne out by the fact that Stanford is actually home to more graduate students (roughly 9,000), than undergrads (just under 7,000).
In spite its staggering 8,000+ acres of campus space, Stanford’s students enjoy a five-to-one student-to-faculty ratio. By extreme contrast, Claremont’s Harvey Mudd College tops out at 44.5 acres, but its 700 to 800 carefully selected students enjoy some of the most rigorous education in the country.
Today, California ranks high in the nation with a 65.1% rate of six year graduation, ten points better than the national average. Still, efforts in the California legislature have focused on translating the state’s enormous student body into a workforce decorated by valuable degrees. For instance, though California State awards roughly 100,000 degrees a year, the University recently said that it hopes to tack an additional 1 million graduates to that rate over the next ten years. Given the scale of California’s economy and the challenges that come with it, there remains a healthy and constant need for degree-holding members of the future workforce.
- See who ranks as the best college and university in California today.
- 11 California Universities rank among The 100 Best Universities in the World! They are: Stanford, UC Berkley, Caltech, UC Los Angeles, UC San Diego, UC San Francisco, UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine, University of Southern California, UC Davis, and UC Santa Cruz.
Colorado is known as the Centennial State, a nickname earned by its admission to the Union as America celebrated the 100th anniversary of its independence in 1876. Even before achieving statehood, the Colorado territory laid the formal groundwork for today’s university system. With the rugged state becoming a growing attraction to silver prospectors, America’s railways reached major mining hubs like Denver. Indeed, early histories point to the determinant role that the silver boom played in shaping curriculum at Colorado’s first colleges, denoting the importance of subjects such as chemistry, mining, and assaying (which has something to do with determining the content of metal or ore).
These events helped to make Denver in particular a thriving western outpost and, in 1864, site of the University of Denver. Just miles from a bustling downtown area, the University is the oldest in the Rocky Mountain region. The college’s founder was a man named John Evans, originally a Governor of the Colorado Territory appointed by no less authority than President Lincoln. Evans viewed his university as a way to help civilize the wild west mining camp that Denver had been to that point. It remains a bastion of civility today to roughly 11,500 students, nestled brilliantly between the majesty of the Rockies and the heart of the city.
As a testament to the importance that higher education has always played in Colorado’s evolution as a state, the University of Denver is just one of the reputable institutions to predate the state’s official accession. Colorado College, steeped in the idyllic natural splendor of Colorado Springs, was founded in 1874. Don’t let its age fool you, though. This private liberal arts college offers among the most progressive and immersive learning experiences in the country. These are among the best of Colorado’s 18 private non-profit colleges.
Colorado also hosts a robust public college system. The University of Colorado, for instance, is one of 29 publicly funded colleges or universities, distinguished as the state’s leading producer of graduate degrees. From its humble beginnings as an agricultural college, the University is now Colorado’s most generously-funded research institution.
On the whole, Colorado has been among the more successful states when it comes to providing affordable high quality post-secondary education to its residents. Take, for instance, the fact that a year at the University of Colorado, Boulder will run an out-of-towner $31K while costing in-state residents just a shade under $10K.
- See who ranks as the best college and university in Colorado today.
- The University of Colorado ranks among The 100 Best Universities in the World.
This New England state was one of the original Crown Colonies, established by the merging of three territories in 1662. It was founding its first universities not longer after. To put it plainly, Connecticut has had plenty of time to get it right. And get it right they have. The state’s tradition of higher education began on no less venerable a site than the New Haven campus where Yale University came to be in 1701.
Yale is not just the top school in the state of Connecticut. According to the 2014 U.S. News & World Report, Yale ranked #3 in the U.S. Times of London notched it as the 11th best school in the world. In addition to its well-deserved reputation for scholastic excellence and its relative exclusivity, Yale is home to the longest-running daily college newspaper in America, The Yale Daily News.
And in spite of Yale’s famous academic and athletic rivalry with nearby Harvard University, the former was actually founded by alumni of the latter as a way to train clergy and statesmen for colonial leadership. Though it began as the Collegiate School at New Haven, the Ivy League college quickly changed its name in honor of a Dutch East India Company governor who donated a crate of goods to the fledgling operation.
In spite of the rich history represented among Connecticut’s 20 private, non-profit universities, some of its best schools came to be in the 20th century. The New London based Connecticut College is a perfect example. The small liberal arts school was established in 1911 and offers its students uncommon freedom in tailoring courses, majors, and degree programs to their individual needs. The school is also noted for its distinguishing generosity in the area of financial aid.
An additional 19 public universities serve the students of Connecticut. Connecticut State Universities are the largest among them (and the second largest in the New England region), serving roughly 35,000 across four state universities (Central, Eastern, Southern, and Western). The Central was the first to be established in 1849 and today, the composite university is comprised of 93% in-state residents.
In 2010, Connecticut’s four-year public colleges exceeded the national average of 56% by graduating 61.5% of their students within six years.
- See who ranks as the best college and university in Connecticut today.
- Yale University ranks #3 among The 100 Best Universities in the World.
Delaware was the first state to ratify the United States Constitution. One of the original 13 colonies, it is at once the sixth least populous and sixth most densely populated state in the U.S. The second smallest state, but one in close proximity to several major American Metropoli, Delaware’s system of higher education is likewise small in scale but large in stature. A total of ten accredited universities claim residence in the state, five public and five private.
In spite of its modest size, Delaware offers its students access to the full spectrum of educational opportunities. Indeed, one could likely fit all 211 students at the Delaware College of Art and Design into a single lecture hall at the Newark-based University of Delaware. The latter is both the largest and oldest school in Delaware, tracing its roots back to the 1743 founding of a small private school in New London, Pa.
Moving south in 1765 and gaining its charter as the Academy of Newark in 1769, the four year quasi-public university (privately chartered but publicly supported) is attended by nearly 22,000 students today. In addition to quadrupling its enrollment across the last 70 years, the University of Delaware credits itself as the birthplace of studying abroad, having dispatched its first class of world travelers to Paris in 1923. The school remains, to date, a top destination for students who anticipate studying abroad.
For those who prefer the comfort of a smaller campus community, Wesley College is a top choice. Located in the state capital of Dover, the 50-acre campus is home to the oldest purely private college in Delaware. Founded in 1873 and offering its 2100 students the full gamut of liberal arts opportunities, Wesley stands out for its excellent record on financial aid.
On the whole, Delaware stands out for its performance in higher education. As of 2010, Delaware boasts a tremendous 70.8% rate of graduation within six years. this is nearly 15 points higher than the national average! This may also explain why Delaware is home to the highest percentage of science and engineering Ph. D.’s per population of any state in the U.S.
With well over 600 miles of beach bordering the state of Florida, it’s no wonder so many college students simply think of the state as the top destination for spring break. But Florida is also a top college destination, enrolling nearly 620,000 full time students in 2013. It’s not just the sunny weather that keeps so many residents in their home state when it comes time for college. At an average of a shade over $4,000 per year, Florida’s in-state cost for a public college or university is just about half the national average.
Florida’s postsecondary system began around the time that the territory became a state itself. Admitted into the Union in 1845, part of its charter called for the establishment of a public institution of higher learning. Thus, in 1851, Florida State University became the first college of the Sunshine State. As of the fall of 2014, more than 41,000 students inhabit its Tallahassee area campuses, helping to make it among the more diverse campuses in the nation.
The largest of the state’s public schools is the University of Florida in Gainesville. Indeed, the campus which began as a small seminary in 1853 is now home to more than 50,000 students. This makes it one of the five largest colleges in the United States. Its size has proven a tremendous advantage to its students, who enjoy access to 16 distinct academic colleges, 150 research centers, and more than 100 undergraduate majors and masters programs alike.
Not only was the University of Florida ranked 14th overall among public universities in U.S. News & World Report’s 2014 survey, but its beloved Gators are winners of multiple bowl games and championships both on the basketball court and the football field, the latter of which seats well over 80,000 fans at a time. The University of Florida ranked 2nd in a 2012 SmartMoney survey concerning the return of starting salary on one’s tuition investment and scored the top spot in a 2013 Washington Monthly list of the best colleges for your money.
If you aren’t into the whole mega-campus thing, the New College of Florida in Sarasota might be more your speed. The 825 person college sits on 144 acres and provides students with individualized attention and a pass/fail approach to grading. This cozy little campus recently ranked #5 in the U.S. News and World Report’s tally of the best public liberal arts colleges in America.
- See who ranks as the best college and university in Florida today.
- The University of Florida ranks among The 100 Best Universities in the World.
Georgia was the last formed of the 13 original colonies but the first to start its own college. Indeed, earning its state-sponsored charter in 1785, the University of Georgia in Athens remains the oldest public university in the United States. The venerable school calls itself the birthplace of the American system of higher education. Considering how long Georgia has been cranking out college graduates, it isn’t surprising that the Peach State is home to 57 public colleges and universities as well as an additional 36 non-profit private institutions.
This wealth of options is highlighted by the highly selective and profoundly well-regarded Emory University. Founded in 1836, the private research university is ranked as the 20th best school overall according to U.S. News & World Report. Located in convenient proximity to the Atlanta metropolitan area, Emory’s lush campus serves more than 14,000 students. Accepting only a quarter of all applicants, Emory is the cream of Georgia’s college system.
At just 2100 students, the Atlanta-based Morehouse College is just as venerable. Established in 1867, both in the shadow of the Civil War and the light of abolition, Morehouse was established to serve the postsecondary aspirations of black students. Though the school is racially all-inclusive today, it is ranked second nationwide among historically black colleges. It also holds the distinction of being one of only three remaining men’s-only liberal arts colleges in the United States.
Other options abound of course. Georgia not only offers a variety of educational opportunities, but it also provides a relatively cost effective spectrum of opportunities. Though the national average for tuition at a four-year public college is a bit over $8,000, Georgia’s annual average for in-state students is closer to $6,300. Additionally, all Georgia residents graduating from high school with a 3.2 GPA or better are eligible for assistance through the state-lottery funded HOPE Scholarship.
Students in Georgia have also taken advantage of the state’s two-year and community college programs. The state saw a 25.1% graduation rate among 2-year students in 2010 as compared to a national average of 20.4%.
- See who ranks as the best college and university in Georgia today.
- Georgia Institute of Technology ranks among The 100 Best Universities in the World.
You might get the impression that Hawaii is nothing but sand, surf, and sun all the time. Well, with the fourth longest coastline of any state in the U.S., you wouldn’t be wrong. But there’s more to Hawaii than just fabulous beaches and a stunning array of flora. Hawaii is also home to some of the most ethnically diverse college campuses in the United States. The archipelago located deep in the heart of the Pacific Ocean was the last state admitted to the U.S., joining the nation in 1959. By the time this tropical paradise became the 50th star on our flag, its first university had more than half a century under its belt.
Under the authority of the Hawai’i Territorial Legislature, 1907 saw the establishment of the College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in Honolulu. Its inaugural class began with 10 students and 12 faculty members. Try beating that student-to-faculty ratio!
Of course, its growth was inevitable as Hawaii increasingly drew newcomers from nearby Pacific islands as well as both the Asian and North American mainlands. By 1912, the campus had relocated to its present day site of Manoa, and by 1920 it was known as the University of Hawaii. With more than 21,000 students—the largest student roster in the state—University of Hawaii still offers a pretty darn good student-to-faculty ratio of 14-to-one. The University is also ranked in the top 100 for public universities in the U.S. and, according to U.S. News & World Report, is the 6th most ethnically diverse campus in the country.
The University is one of 10 public colleges or universities, which spread out across the state’s major islands. Hawaii also claims seven non-profit private colleges. Best regarded among them is the Hawaii Pacific University on the Hawaii Loa Campus. Founded in 1963 and ultimately absorbed into the larger Pacific University in 1992, Hawaii Loa is recognized for the competitive salaries often earned by its graduates. Of course, like most other locations in Hawaii, its campus is also breathtakingly beautiful.
Among other notable private universities, Hawaii is also the site of a Brigham Young University campus. Affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, BYU-Hawaii offers its students one of the more affordable avenues to higher education given that the church itself sponsors much of the cost of tuition. In general, tuition for the typical four-year Hawaiian college was slightly lower in 2012-2013, at $7,731, than the national average of $8,070.
You could fit all of New England inside of Idaho. In spite of its size though, this Rocky Mountain state is the 39th most populous in the nation. Admitted as the 43rd state in 1890, Idaho’s gorgeous vistas and wide open spaces are host to eight public universities and seven non-profit private institutions.
The first of these to be established was the Bannock State Academy, forged by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Rexburg in 1888. Thereafter, as Ricks College, it would serve as the largest two-year school in the nation. As of the year 2000, Bannock is one of three Brigham Young University campuses, along with the school’s Hawaii campus and its flagship Provo, Utah location. Though this is the oldest private university in the state, it would quickly be joined on the landscape by the state’s first public institution, the University of Idaho.
Founded in 1889, the University would help to usher Idaho toward statehood from its perch in the rural and mountainous community of Moscow. With roughly 12,000 students enrolled and access to more than 200 student groups, 1600 acres and its very own golf course, the University of Idaho is as stimulating as it is picturesque. Falling in the Top 100 among public universities, the University of Idaho is typically regarded as one of the best values for your money, running in-state residents a bit over $6,000 per year and charging out-of-state students a competitive $19,000 annual tuition.
The University of Idaho is not the largest of the state’s schools. That honor belongs to Boise State University, which it bears noting is also the only college in the nation that offers a Master of Science in Raptor Biology, if you’re into that sort of thing. Speaking of Boise, the nearby suburb of Caldwell is notable as the site of the College of Idaho’s 50-acre spread. Founded in 1891, this liberal arts college of just over 1000 students is known for its intimate class sizes, its stellar skiing program and the fact that its students have the chance to study three minors at once.
In spite of its sparseness, Idaho can lay claim to one of the fastest growing student populations in the nation. In fact, between 2008 and 2013, the state saw the single largest percentage of increase of college enrollment in the U.S. with a robust 31.5% rate of growth.
Illinois is the fifth most populous state in the U.S. and, for two centuries, it has been at the forefront of America’s evolution. Whether a leader in the age of agriculture, a hub for industrialization, or a thriving cluster of major metropolitan areas, the Land of Lincoln is often seen as an epicenter of American life. Certainly, its university system bears out this impression.
Since its admission into the Union in 1818, Illinois has emerged as a leader in higher education. Its 60 public institutions and 86 non-profit private schools provide residents and visitors with an impressive spectrum of options. The first of these options would emerge in 1828 with the establishment of the private McKendree University. It would be another 30 years before the founding of the state’s first public institution, Illinois State Normal University. The school eventually dropped the “Normal”—which historically signified a teacher’s college—from its name. But it does maintain one cherished tradition, annually staging what is now the longest-running collegiate circus in the U.S.
By 1890, the city of Chicago was a flourishing urban center, drawing new residents from throughout the nation and immigrants from throughout the world. The time was right for the founding of the University of Chicago, a private university begun by the American Baptist Education Society. Today, the University of Chicago is ranked #5 overall among American colleges by U.S. News & World Report. The venerated university is distinguished by a student roster where graduates outnumber undergraduates two to one. It is also home to the University of Chicago Press, which is the largest publisher of academic texts in the U.S.
Another private school of tremendous reputation and historical import is Wheaton College, a small four year institution located in the Chicago suburb from which the school takes its name. The U.S. News & World Report ranks Wheaton as the 56th best liberal arts school in the nation but Wheaton is remarkable beyond its educational rigor (which includes one of the world’s top music conservatory programs). Indeed, the school which was founded on the eve of the American Civil War would famously become the first stop on the Underground Railroad by which fugitive slaves emerged to Northern freedom. Appropriately, Wheaton would also grant a degree to the state’s very first African American graduate.
Beyond that, educational options abound in Illinois. The College of DuPage is the single largest community college campus in the U.S. outside of California; the University of Illinois, Chicago is host to the single biggest medical school in the country; and the highly selective Northwestern University enjoys one of the largest endowments in the nation at just under $10 billion.
- See who ranks as the best college and university in Illinois today.
- The University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and The University of Illinois all rank among The 100 Best Universities in the World.
Entering the United States in 1816, Indiana would become the very first state to mandate the establishment of both a public school system and a public university within its founding constitution. This resolution would give way to the 1820 establishment of the Indiana Seminary in Bloomington. This would be the seedling for Indiana University, the largest university in the state and, with more than 570,000 living graduates worldwide, owner of the third largest alumni base in the United States. In addition to an excellent academic reputation, which includes the #2 overall ranked graduate program in the country (School of Public and Environmental Affairs), Indiana University’s Hoosiers have combined for no fewer than 24 NCAA national championships.
1869 saw the establishment of what is arguably Indian’s very best post-secondary school, when Purdue University instated its main campus in West Lafayette. Today, the sprawling 2,606-acre grounds are home to almost 40,000 students, a far cry from the 39 students that filled its classes during the inaugural 1874 school year.
With an offering of more than 200 undergraduate majors and 900 student organizations, Purdue is quite the draw to out-of-state attendees. In fact, Purdue boasts the fourth largest international student population in the United States. The attraction is no doubt strengthened by Purdue’s top-flight engineering program, one in which no fewer than 21% of its enrollees take part. Purdue’s Boilermakers also have a healthy and long-standing state rivalry with the Hoosiers, their football squadrons battling it out each year for a claim to the storied ‘oaken bucket’ trophy.
Of course, not all of Indiana’s colleges are so massive. With just 872 students on its roster, the all-men’s Wabash College was founded in Crawfordsville in 1832. One of the more academically challenging postsecondary experiences in the state of Indiana, Wabash is at once highly selective and uniquely rigorous. One of only three all-men’s colleges remaining in the United States, Wabash is part of a private college landscape that includes 40 non-profit private universities. Many others that fall into this category are sanctioned by religious organizations, such as the Top 20-ranked University of Notre Dame and Valparaiso University, the latter of which is distinguished as having been one of the first coeducational schools in the nation upon its 1858 founding.
Public universities in Indiana total 16 and the state’s Ivy Tech Community College system bears the distinction of being the nation’s largest singly credited statewide community college system, with roughly 200,000 students enrolling annually.
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Iowa has long enjoyed a tradition of both excellence and progressiveness in its postsecondary sector. The only state in the U.S. bordered to both the east and west by rivers—the Mississippi and the Missouri respectively—Iowa is home to 19 public universities or colleges and 35 non-profit private schools. The first and oldest of Iowa’s postsecondary institutions is Loras College, a private school which began in 1839 as the St. Raphael Seminary.
Becoming the Union’s 29th state in between Christmas and New Year’s Eve of 1846, Iowa established its first public university just two months later. The 1847 founding of the University of Iowa in Iowa City marked the inception of one of the finest public research institutions in the U.S. Ranked as 28th best in the country according to U.S. News & World Report, the University of Iowa serves roughly 31,000 students and is perhaps most noted for its nationally renowned medical center.
Like the state itself, the University of Iowa also earns high marks for its progressivism, creating pathways for academic, athletic, and community recognition for women, African Americans, and LGBT students.
Iowa also has no shortage of reputable private institutions. Grinnell College is notable among them. Founded in 1846 by the Methodist Church, the school is a secular bastion of self-directed learning and ranks #17 among all liberal arts colleges, according U.S. News & World Report.
At 1700 students, Grinnell is indeed a modestly sized campus. But intimate campuses are something of a specialty for Iowa. Prospective students wishing to study there have 20 colleges of less than 1000 student each to choose from.
The variety appears to have served the state’s students quite well. Iowa’s 69.4% rate of graduation within six years is substantially better than the national average of 56%. In fact, this is the second best graduation rate from four-year public schools in the country. Iowa also boasts the seventh highest national retention rate, the third-highest percentage of female students in the U.S., and a 33% graduation rate from its two-year institutions, as compared to a 20.4% national average.
Considering the strength of its educational tradition, it’s easy to see why the heartland state enjoys generally low unemployment and ranks as among the most stable and diverse economies in the United States.
Settlers first began homesteading Kansas in 1854, just as tensions over slavery were reaching a crescendo. As a result, the territory became a key battleground with Northern abolitionists and Southern pro-slavery settlers rushing to populate the future state. In the midst of this heated confrontation began the state’s postsecondary educational tradition. The earliest years saw the emergence of a number of small, private, mostly church-affiliated institutions.
In 1858, Baker University became the state’s first four-year institution. The Methodist-chartered institution remains the oldest continuously operated four-year school in the state. That same year saw the opening of Highland College. Known today as Highland Community Junior College, it too is the oldest continuously operated school of its kind.
Back to the fractured history of early Kansas. The abolitionists ultimately won a antebellum victory, with Kansas becoming a non-slave state upon its admission to the Union in 1861. After five years of war, Kansas emerged to the establishment of its first public university. In 1866, the University of Kansas opened its doors in the small town of Lawrence. Today, the nearly 29,000 students who make their home on its 1100 acre campus enjoy an exceptionally reasonable tuition—$6,600 for in-state and $16,000 for out-of-state enrollees—and one of the most exciting sporting traditions in the NCAA.
In particular, the Jayhawks of men’s basketball are part of as storied a tradition as exists in college sport. Ranking #2 in an ESPN poll of greatest modern college basketball programs, it currently enjoys the longest streak of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances at 26. It’s no wonder basketball is such a fundamental part of student life at the University of Kansas. The game’s inventor, James Naismith, was actually the program’s founder and the team’s first coach!
Indeed, basketball is a central part of student life throughout Kansas, with public universities like Wichita State and Kanas State also fielding competitive teams year-in, year-out. In fact, the latter, in 2012-2013, became only the second school in the history of the Big 12 Conference to win conference titles in men’s basketball, football, and baseball in a single year. As for the former, Wichita State’s Shockers probably hold the unofficial title for funniest NCAA mascot.
Enrollment at Kansas State and Wichita State are approximately 23,000 and 14,000 respectively. On the opposite end of the size spectrum, many of the state’s best schools are rooted in traditions of faith. Benedictine University, for example, is a devoutly Roman Catholic campus of roughly 1700 students. Though the school was established in Atchison in 1971, it was actually the product of two far older institutions. The merger of St. Benedict’s College for men (nee 1850) and the Mount St. Scholastica College for Women (nee 1923), helped produce a close-knit, spiritual community that, in addition to its student population, is home to 53 monks and 15 varsity NCAA athletics programs.
With 33 public institutions, 25 non-profit private schools, and an average in-state public school tuition roughly $1100 below the national average of $8,070, the educational landscape in Kansas is actually quite a bit more varied than the topography of the state itself.
The 15th state to join the Union, the commonwealth of Kentucky is best known for three things: bourbon, bluegrass music, and college basketball. If that sounds like a good time to you (I know it does to me!), then this might be a good destination for your postsecondary education. Of course, this isn’t all Kentucky has to offer. The state is also home to some of the best schools in its region.
In fact, the state’s tradition of higher education can be traced back to the immediate aftermath of America’s independence. Before becoming one of the very first post-colonial states in 1792, Kentucky was a part of the Virginia colony. It was during this period, in 1780, that the territory opened the doors to its first college. The Christian Church-run Transylvania Seminary (now Transylvania University), stands today as the oldest extant university west of the Allegheny Mountains. The Lexington-based institution is consistently cited by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top private universities in the nation. It does bear noting that its athletic teams are called Pioneers, and not the Transylvania Draculas as one might have hoped.
Lexington is also the site of Kentucky’s largest public institution. The University of Kentucky was founded as the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Kentucky in 1865. Today, the campus serves nearly 30,000 students. In addition to its world-renowned university library system and its impressive array of academic offerings, the University of Kentucky Wildcats are, by most metrics, the best NCAA men’s basketball team of all time. Tops all time in regular season wins, winning percentage, and NCAA tournament appearances, and second all time with eight tournament championships, the Wildcats are a dominant presence on campus.
The University of Kentucky is one of the state’s 24 public universities. Other notable institutions in this category include Western Kentucky University and the University of Louisville. The latter of these not only sponsors its own notable men’s basketball program but its on-campus art museum can also lay claim to one of the history’s most recognized works of art in Rodin’s The Thinker.
Among its 28 non-profit private schools, Berea College (located in a town by the same name), is notable both for its excellence and its accessibility. In addition to recently topping U.S. News & World Report’s list of most comprehensive colleges in the South, Berea is highly unique for admitting only students who require financial aid and consequently awarding full-ride scholarships to all students enrolled. In spite of the fact that Berea is free to all, this is no bargain-basement education. Not only is Berea cited by Washington Monthly as the 3rd best liberal arts college in the nation, but 50% of its students study abroad every year.
In 1812, Louisiana became the 18th state to join the U.S. However, by the time of its accession, the territory had already witnessed a history of remarkable diversity and multiculturalism. From its varying occupations by Spanish and French settlers, to its dense Native American populations, to the influx of African and Caribbean slaves during its earliest days, Louisiana has long been the site of tremendous cultural fertility. It was in this context that, during the 18th century, Louisiana was home to any number of now long-defunct religious institutions of higher learning.
In fact though, its first public university did not come to be until more than a decade after the achievement of statehood. In 1825, the College of Louisiana received its charter to open in Jackson. After 20 year years in operation, the school lost state funding and merged with the Centenary College. Now a private institution located just outside of Shreveport, the Centenary College of Louisiana is in fact the oldest chartered liberal arts college west of the Mississippi River. With just under 800 students studying in both its undergraduate and graduate programs, Centenary offers enrollees a chance for a highly personalized course of study and access to a close-knit community of like-minded learners.
Centenary is one of 14 non-profit private schools in the state. Much like Centenary, Tulane University began its life as a public school before transforming into the private institution that stands in the heart of New Orleans today. Beginning as a public medical college in 1834, generalizing its academic offerings in 1847, and becoming a private institution in 1884, Tulane is home to 13,000 students today. In addition to placing its students at the center of one of America’s most culturally exciting and artistically dynamic cities, Tulane rates #51 overall on U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of American universities.
Of course, there are plenty of universities in Louisiana that remain public; 34 to be exact. Largest among them is the Baton Rouge-based Louisiana State University, which began in 1853 as the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning & Military Academy. Today, LSU can claim more than 28,000 enrollees and can count NBA all-time great Shaquille O’Neal among its alumni.
Also, if you’re looking for a bargain on your education, it doesn’t get too much better than Louisiana, especially if you’re coming from within the state. At $5,817, the average in-state tuition per annum at a four-year college in Louisiana is substantially lower than the national average of $8,070.
Maine is at once the northern and easternmost state in the U.S. Originally an untamed wilderness contained within the state of Massachusetts, it would secede to independence in 1820. It was thus that the untamed wilderness became a state within itself. The 23rd state is sparsely populated and ensconced in natural beauty. These are two features which also happen to describe its postsecondary education sector.
The history of Maine’s higher education begins during its time as a section of Massachusetts. In 1794, Bowdoin College was founded in the small coastal town of Brunswick. From the outset, Bowdoin would be distinguished by its academic rigor and its appeal to an elite set of enrollees. Indeed, this private liberal arts college would serve as the proving ground for many a future luminary. Amazingly, eventual President of the United States Franklin Pierce and genre-defining Romantic novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne graduated Bowdoin within a year of one another and were pretty close friends.
Today, Bowdoin is routinely ranked among the Top Five best liberal arts colleges in America by U.S. News & World Report. The school is also noted for providing generous financial aid to the vast majority of its more than 1800 students. Bowdoin is one of 14 non-profit private universities in the state, many of them tracing their roots to the colonial era.
By contrast, Maine would actually be a state for 45 years before establishing a public school. It was in 1865 that the Maine State College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts was established.
Renamed the University of Maine just before the turn of the next century, the flagship university in Maine’s public system is today the largest of the state’s 15 public institutions. With roughly 11,000 students enrolled, the University is fairly well-populated by Maine’s standards. Located in picturesque Orono, the University of Maine is the state’s only recognized research university and is also home to the single largest library in all of Maine. Presumably, said library has no shortage of texts by its most famous alumnus, horror novelist Stephen King.
Maine also has a particularly strong track record for serving U.S. military veterans. For instance, the Southern Maine Community College was actually originally established in 1946 to serve veterans returning from service in World War II. Today, the school is the educational home base for more than 7,000 students of varying military and non-military backgrounds.
The Mid-Atlantic state of Maryland was one of the original thirteen colonies and the seventh to ratify the U.S. Constitution. In fact, its tradition of higher education dates back to the earliest days of American settlement. Indeed, 1696 saw the founding of King William’s Preparatory School in the capital city of Annapolis. It is this institution that would eventually go on to become St. John’s College, one of the most reputable private liberal arts schools in the nation. St. John’s is distinguished by a rule that prevents any of its class sizes from exceeding 20 students.
As it happens though, St. John’s did not receive its official collegiate charter until 1784. While this gives the school a long and storied tradition, it is actually not technically the first university established in the state. That title belongs to Washington College, which was established in 1782 and remains in operation today.
Certainly, the state’s most reputable institution of higher learning is the Johns Hopkins University. Established in 1876, Johns Hopkins is widely regarded as among the most important research centers in the world. Indeed it was the first of its kind in the United States. A private college of nearly 21,000 enrollees, Johns Hopkins’ community of researchers have contributed to a number of groundbreaking achievements, including the invention of the modern pacemaker and active participation in the Civil Rights Movement. In addition to granting degrees to no fewer than 36 future Nobel Prize winners (including President Woodrow Wilson), Johns Hopkins’ men’s lacrosse team lays claim to a remarkable 44 national titles.
Johns Hopkins is one of 22 private non-profit colleges in the state. But Maryland also specializes in enormous public campuses, particularly its community college system. To wit, Prince George’s Community College educates 40,000; Anne Arundel Community College boasts more than 53,000 enrollees; Montgomery College teaches 60,000; and the Community College of Baltimore County holds a roster of 70,000. Not to be outdone among four-year schools, the University of Maryland University College is home to about 69,000 across its various campuses.
It is perhaps not unrelated that a state with such a broad cross-section of students in its post-secondary system, as well as a 62.3% rate of six year graduation across its public colleges, also enjoys the highest median household income in the U.S.
- See who ranks as the best college and university in Maryland today.
- Johns Hopkins University and The University of Maryland rank among The 100 Best Universities in the World.
One of the original 13 colonies and the sixth state to ratify the U.S. Constitution, Massachusetts has been the site of countless defining moments in American history. From the settlement of the Plymouth colony to the Boston Tea Party; from Shays Rebellion to the abolition of slavery, Massachusetts stands at the forefront of America’s political, economic, and cultural curves. It should come as no surprise, therefore, the this New England state is also at the forefront of America’s educational evolution.
Indeed, Massachusetts is home to what is often regarded as the very best school in the U.S. But it happens that Harvard University in Cambridge is also the first and oldest continuously operating institution of higher education in the nation. Formed in 1635 as a school for Unitarian clergy, it would eventually become the secular academic powerhouse we know today. Indeed, this campus of 21,000 students is just as frequently ranked as the top school in the world as in the U.S. Its reputation is further assured by the eight U.S presidents and 150 Nobel Laureates that have called Harvard their alma mater.
Of course, Harvard is not alone among Massachusetts’ vaunted institutions of higher learning, Indeed, no fewer than six other schools are routinely regarded as being among the Top 50 schools in the U.S. This includes Tufts University, Boston College, Brandeis University, Boston University (also the biggest school in the state with an enrollment of roughly 32,000), Northeastern University, and of course, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (just a few miles down the road from Harvard and often seen as its academic equal).
Harvard is also not the only ‘first’ among Massachusetts colleges. Founded in 1837, Mount Holyoke College is the oldest continuously operated women’s college in the United States. The South Hadley-based liberal arts school was the first of the so-called Seven Sisters and the model from which many of its siblings would be adapted.
With 30 public schools and 86 non-profit private schools, residents of this third most densely populated state do have plenty of options. In fact, the state’s small liberal arts colleges are just as reputable. Wellesley College, Amherst College, and Williams College give Massachusetts a fairly untouchable claim on U.S. News & World Report’s Top Five Liberal Arts Colleges. Indeed, Williams holds the highest spot in today’s rankings.
Home to roughly 2000 students, the school that was founded in 1793 offers one of the most direct windows into New England’s revolutionary era. Its library houses first editions of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, among countless other remarkable artifacts.
- See who ranks as the best college and university in Massachusetts today.
- Harvard, MIT, and Boston University rank among The 100 Best Universities in the World.
Since its inception into the United States in 1837, the 26th state has been a leader in industrialization and manufacturing. But its history as a leader in higher education goes back even further. Indeed, not only did Michigan’s oldest continuously operated college open its doors 20 years before the territory became a state, but said college has been public since day one. Initially established in Detroit, the University of Michigan relocated to Ann Arbor the same year that the state acceded. It was also at this juncture that Michigan authored a requirement into its constitution mandating the state’s responsibility for sponsoring higher education. This commitment has served Michigan well, with no fewer than 46 public colleges or universities in operation today.
The University of Michigan reflects the particularly high caliber of public institution in Michigan. Widely considered one of the premier research universities in the nation, its massive 20,965 acre campus is home to more than 43,000 students, who have the opportunity to choose from 200 majors, 90 master’s programs, 100 doctoral paths, and nearly 1500 student organizations.
The University of Michigan’s storied Wolverines, particularly those of the men’s basketball and football programs, enjoy a healthy cross-state rivalry with the Michigan State Spartans. The schools also compete closely for largest institution in the state. Michigan State, founded in 1855, has the slight edge in this category with an enrollment of roughly 48,000. Michigan State also credits itself as the first institution of learning in American with a comprehensive scientific agriculture program.
The only Michigan school with more students than MSU is the Oakland Community College, a two-year institution that handles about 81,000 annually. Michigan’s considerable array of postsecondary options also includes 51 non-profit private colleges or universities. Notable among them is Hillsdale College, which was founded by Baptists in 1844 but is fully secular today. With just under 1500 undergraduates and an average class size of 15, students at Hillsdale enjoy a 10-to-one student-to-faculty ratio and a bucolic 200-acre landscape.
Michigan’s strong record on higher education extends to both its exceptionally high retention and graduation rates. As to the latter, Michigan students graduate within six years at a rate of 60.7%, which is nearly five points better than the national average.
- See who ranks as the best college and university in Michigan today.
- The University of Michigan ranks among The 100 Best Universities in the World.
The northern-bound midwestern state of Minnesota joined the U.S. in 1858 and immediately made education one of its top priorities, mandating the establishment of the Winona Normal School (now Winona State University) that very same year. This was the site of the first so-called “normal school”—now more commonly referred to as teachers’ colleges—west of the Mississippi.
The fact that education played such a central role in the early development of the 32nd state may well account for the array of evidence suggesting that Minnesota is among the best educated and most literate states in the U.S. Quite to the point, the city of Minneapolis is at once home to the single most literate metropolitan population in America and to its premier public research institution. The University of Minnesota-Twin City, in fact, predates the establishment of the state itself by seven years and now occupies two campuses, with the second five miles down the road in St. Paul. Today, its 65,000 students enjoy 2,730 acres spread across both campuses.
In addition to the 43 public schools Minnesota has to offer, students may also choose from among 35 non-profit private universities. Carleton College is a standout among them. The Northfield school of 2000 students sits on an expansive rural tract of more than 1000 acres, enough room for the extremely generous array of student activities and athletics the campus has to offer. Carleton is also one of six colleges in Minnesota occupying a spot on U.S. News & World Report’s Top 100 liberal arts schools.
On the whole, higher education has proven an important part of life and culture in Minnesota. In fact, its state college and university system is the 14th largest in the United States based on student enrollment, a telling accomplishment for a state that is only the 21st most populous in the nation. In 2012, it ranked tops of all the states in its region for overall college enrollment rates. Minnesota is a perfect example of a state whose commitment to higher education has translated into widespread literacy and prosperity.
- See who ranks as the best college and university in Minnesota today.
- The University of Minnesota ranks among The 100 Best Universities in the World.
According to a Gallup Poll from 2011, Mississippi is the most religious state in the U.S. It is fitting, therefore, that the first and oldest of its colleges was founded by the Baptist Church in 1826. In fact, the still operational Mississippi College is the second oldest Baptist college in the nation.
The oldest of the state’s public institutions is the University of Mississippi, or Old Miss as it is affectionately called. Though the 20th state joined the Union in 1817, it would be 31 years before Mississippi would have its first public college. Indeed, it would also be another 73 years before Ole Miss had any company in that category. Today, there are 24 public colleges or universities in that state. Given its longevity though, few are tied into the state’s history as is the University of Mississippi.
Indeed, the Oxford-based campus saw its entire student population enlist to fight on the side of the Confederacy during the American Civil War and consequently saw said population decimated. In sunnier matters, Ole Miss was among the first colleges in the South to employ female faculty members and, in 1964, its medical center became the site of the world’s first successful human lung transplant. Ole Miss is also a hotbed for Greek life, with more than 30% of students belonging to either a fraternity or sorority.
With roughly 17,000 students enrolled today, the University of Mississippi competes only with Mississippi State University—which sits closer to 16,000 students—in terms of size. University of Southern Mississippi also has a sizable student body at nearly 14,000, a roster which at different points has included NFL all-time great Brett Favre and Margarita enthusiast Jimmy Buffet.
Though the number of private universities in the state is modest at just nine non-profit institutions, some of these are quite well-regarded. Millsaps College is a perfect example. Where as Ole Miss provides a bustling campus in an otherwise rural splendor, Millsaps provides stately relief from the capital city of Jackson.
The Methodist-founded liberal arts school opened its doors in 1890. With just under 1000 students, an average class size of 15, and an unusually high level of focus on the completion of written work, Millsaps retains the state’s long-standing place of origin for some of America’s greatest scribes.
Mississippi also offers some of the most affordable educational options on the national landscape. At roughly $6,147, the average in-state tuition for the 2012-2013 academic season was substantially less than the national average of $8,070.
The Show-Me State seems to take tremendous pride in having any number of the world’s largest things, whether it be the world’s largest ball of twine (Branson), the world’s tallest chess piece (St. Louis), or the world’s longest pecan (Brunswick). Well, when it comes to higher education, Missouri is no different. With a combination of 28 public institutions and 55 non-profit private schools, Missouri offers a large array of options for aspiring college students. This may help to explain why enrollment at Missouri’s various schools climbed an impressive 18.8 percent between 2008 and 2013 (a period, it bears noting, during which most states saw some decline).
Missouri joined the U.S. as its 24th state in 1821. By that time, its first institution of higher learning was already three years old. St. Louis University was established by Catholics in 1818 and remains in operation today. Charmingly, the school’s athletics teams are represented by a friendly gnomelike creature named Billiken.
The most highly regarded among the state’s private schools would come nearly a century later in the form of College of the Ozarks. Based in Point Lookout just outside of Branson, this 1500 person campus was founded in 1906. Fittingly for a school which charges no tuition but instead enrolls each of its students in a structured work-study program, College of the Ozarks is ranked as the #1 Best Buy College in the Midwest, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Missouri’s best overall private research institution is Washington University in St. Louis. Established in 1853 and serving as home to more than 14,000 students today, it offers intimate classrooms, personal access to professors, and an extremely selective admissions process. Also, in keeping with Missouri’s love for all things enormous, its campus covers more than 2300 acres.
Still, by far the largest institution in the state is the main campus of the University of Missouri, which is located in Columbia. With more than 26,000 students, the school got its start in 1839 and was not only the first public institution in the state, but also the first west of the Mississippi River. Today, the school’s Tigers enjoy an impassioned and ongoing rivalry with the neighboring University of Kansas. Indeed, often regarded as the oldest sports rivalry west of the Mississippi, the annual ‘Border War’ football games between the two hearken back to the border skirmishes that would ultimately define the boundaries of the Kansas and Missouri territories before either achieved statehood.
- See who ranks as the best college and university in Missouri today.
- Washington University in St. Louis ranks among The 100 Best Universities in the World.
Montana is at once the fourth largest state in the U.S. and the third least densely populated. Its sparseness is underscored by its relatively small college student population. In 2013, the entire state reported an enrollment of roughly 40,000 students, a number that is actually dwarfed by enrollment at some of the nation’s larger colleges. Still, Montana has the highest enrollment rate among its neighboring state, a fact owed to the excellent tradition within the few universities that are located in Montana.
Montana became the 41st state in 1889, by which point the territory had already enjoyed the services of the Montana Collegiate Institute for 11 years. Over the next century, the Institute would experience mergers and rebranding, first as the Billings Polytechnic Institute, and later as the Rocky Mountain College. It operates under this name today.
The largest of the state’s public schools are Montana State University and the University of Montana. The latter, located in Missoula and serving about 15,000 students, would be established in 1893 at the foot of Montana’s majestic Mount Sentinel. Today, these schools are among 17 public institutions throughout the state.
Private non-profit options top out at six, though a few of these enjoy considerable reputation. For instance, Carroll College in the capital city of Helena got its start in 1909 as a Catholic-founded liberal arts school. Though originally a men’s school, Carroll transformed into a co-educational campus in 1932. Today, the school’s 1500 student roster is actually 59% female. In spite of its modest size—one quite clearly reflective of the Montana population on the whole—Carroll is rated as U.S. News & World Report’s 3rd Best Value School in the western region and the West’s top regional college.
Fortunately for Montana’s students, the cost of tuition in the state is lower than average by a considerable sum. Where the national average for in-state tuition was $8,070 in 2012-2013, students in Montana paid an average of $6,267 to attend a public university.
Nebraska joined the Union in 1867 as its 37th state. Just two years prior, the state’s Episcopalian Church had established the Mount Vernon College. Shortly after Nebraska gained statehood, the school turned its focus toward the education of prospective teachers. Today, after at least four name changes, the school remains in operation under the name Peru State College.
The oldest and largest of the state’s public institutions would be established two years after the achievement of statehood. In 1869, the University of Nebraska opened its doors in the capital city of Lincoln. Today the school is home to 25,000 students but this flagship school is affiliated with approximately 45,000 acre of campus across the state. Lincoln itself is home to two campuses, roughly two miles apart.
In addition to its broad array of academic and recreational opportunities, including 150 undergraduate majors and more than 400 student organizations, the University of Nebraska holds several distinctions in the athletics arena. In a region where football is very much a way of life, the school’s cornhuskers have attended 27 consecutive bowl games and recorded 27 consecutive winning seasons. They may owe at least part of this success to their unparalleled facilities. Indeed, the University of Nebraska is home to the single largest weightlifting room in the country, at three-fourths of an acre. But the University of Nebraska doesn’t just breed great athletes. It also breeds smart ones. The Cornhuskers football team has produced more Academic All-Americans than any other Division I school in history.
The University of Nebraska is the oldest and largest of 15 public colleges or universities in the state. There are an additional 19 private non-profit universities in Nebraska. Founded in 1887 by the Methodist Church, Nebraska Wesleyan University is among the best examples of the state’s thriving private, liberal arts sectors. Also located in Lincoln, Wesleyan’s 1600 enrollees enjoy an average class size of 19 students. Wesleyan’s excellence is aided by the school’s four-year graduation guarantee, which finds counselors and educators working closely with students to guide them toward on-time graduation.
Though the state of Nebraska falls exactly in line with the 56% national average rate of six-year graduation, the state is an exceptionally high-performer when it comes to job-placement. Nebraska has experienced a great deal of industrial transformation in recent years as the state works to reduce its dependency on agriculture and meat production. This means that universities and firms have worked closely to create and staff technology and business jobs for graduates just entering the market.
The 36th State to join the Union, Nevada is often referred to as the Battle-Born State. Indeed, its accession in 1864 made it the second of two states (after West Virginia) to enter into the U.S. just as it splintered under the weight of conflict. Though the state was largely arid desert at the time, the discoveries of silver and gold brought rapid migration even as the Confederacy waged its war of secession.
The state’s first university, however, would not come to be until some time after hostilities had subsided. 1874 saw the establishment of the State University of Nevada in Elko. Ten years later, this institution relocated to Reno, just a few miles away from Lake Tahoe’s captivating beauty. The campus itself, renamed the University of Nevada, Reno, is just as breathtaking, nestled in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and offering a lush desert oasis for its 18,000 enrollees. Its geography also plays a role in its research opportunities. To the point, the desert campus is no stranger to tectonic events and is thus home to one of the largest earthquake-simulation labs in the nation.
Given that three-quarters of Nevada’s population lives within a single county (Clark), it’s not surprising that it only claims seven public universities. The largest of these is the University of Nevada Las Vegas, with some 22,000 attendees studying near the world’s greatest gambling mecca. Its numbers are only trumped by those at the College of Southern Nevada. The two-year community college teaches nearly 38,000 a year.
Though there are only three private non-profit universities throughout the state, Sierra Nevada College is a true standout. Founded in 1969 on the stately northern shore of Lake Tahoe, the roughly 1000 students at Sierra Nevada can take advantage of a 10-to-one student-to-faculty ratio and, if inclined toward winter sports as are most in proximity of Lake Tahoe, of the school’s highly regarded skiing and snowboarding teams.
In spite of the fact that there aren’t a great many schools to choose from in Nevada, the Las Vegas metropolitan area has been among the fastest growing in the U.S. over the last decade. The result is a bevy of career opportunities at a tremendous discount. Indeed, where the national average for in-state public school tuition was $8,070 in the 2012-2013 academic year, students in Nevada paid an average of $4,953. This is one of the lowest average costs in the U.S.
New Hampshire was one of the original 13 colonies and the second to declare its independence from Great Britain in 1776. It was also the first state to develop its own constitution and, as the ninth to ratify the federal Constitution, New Hampshire would cast the vote which officially brought the landmark document into effect. Given its essential role in the early development of our nation, it is fitting that New Hampshire is also an early forerunner in the evolution of American higher education.
Its postsecondary history began when New Hampshire was still just a rebellious colony. Dartmouth was originally founded as a school for Native Americans in 1769 and in addition to being the oldest school in New Hampshire, it is one of only nine still-active Colonial Colleges founded before the Revolution. Of course, active is an understatement. This private, Hanover-based research university is a thriving and highly regarded institution today. With just a bit more than 6000 students on campus, Dartmouth is the smallest of the venerable Ivy League schools. In addition to routinely placing among the nation’s top schools academically, Dartmouth is ranked as the 3rd best school in the nation for student life, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Of course, not all of New Hampshire’s best schools predate electricity and indoor plumbing. In fact, one of the state’s top-ranked liberal arts schools was actually established well over 200 years after Dartmouth! Thomas More College of Liberal Arts emerged in Merrimack in 1978 and quickly ascended in reputation based on the strength of its reading-intensive curriculum and its dynamic study abroad program. With less than 100 students enrolled at present time, Thomas More may truly be among the most intimate college experiences available anywhere in the U.S.
Dartmouth and Thomas More are two of 14 non-profit private schools in the Granite State. New Hampshire is home to an additional 12 public institutions. This number is more than adequate for one of the nation’s least populous states. Indeed, in 2013, the whole state of New Hampshire was home to 38,834 students. Even the state’s largest public university, the University of New Hampshire, Durham, does not exceed 13,000 students.
In spite of their relatively small population, the students of New Hampshire far exceed the national six year graduation rate of 56%, scoring 65.4% in 2010.
New Jersey was one of the original 13 colonies and the third state to ratify the U.S. Constitution in 1787. In addition to being the most densely populated state in the nation and the second wealthiest according to the American Community Survey, New Jersey is home to one of the nation’s most storied systems of higher education. To the point, New Jersey is the only state with a claim to not one but two of the nation’s original nine Colonial Colleges.
The first of these, Princeton University was established in the town of the same name, originally as the College of New Jersey, in 1746. This makes it only the fourth university in the U.S. to gain its charter and, naturally, the oldest in the Garden State. The Ivy League school is not just the best in New Jersey. Quite simply, according to 2015’s U.S. News & World Report, Princeton is the very best school in America. Admitting a mere 8% of applicants each year, it is among the most selective schools in the world, but its generous financial aid and work study programs help most of its students to graduate without crippling student loan debt.
Two decades after Princeton’s establishment, Queen’s College opened its doors in New Brunswick, becoming only the eighth college to do so in the 13 colonies. Renamed Rutgers College in 1825, the private liberal arts school endured financial difficulty for much of its first half-century. Though endowments facilitated its growth over the next several decades, 1864 saw its designation as the state’s only land-grant college. Transformed into a public coeducational institution, the state school now spreads across three regional campuses and serves roughly 58,000 students.
Princeton and Rutgers also share a fairly remarkable distinction in the history of college and American sports. In November of 1869, the two schools became the first ever to compete in an intercollegiate football game.
In spite of New Jersey’s dense population, not all of its public schools are as massive as is Rutgers. The Ramapo College of New Jersey, located in Mahwah, is a mid-sized public liberal arts school which places its students in a region that is at once endowed with natural beauty and in close proximity to New York City. Kiplinger’s calls the school, established in 1969, one of the Best Value Public Colleges in the U.S.
Ramapo is one of New Jersey’s 32 public schools. Along with an additional 30 non-profit private schools, New Jersey is almost as densely populated with excellent schools as with citizens and cars. And with a six-year graduation rate that is 10.5% better than the nationwide rate of 56%, it’s easy to see why Jersey continues to enjoy unfettered growth and prosperity some 269 years after the establishment of its first university.
- See who ranks as the best college and university in New Jersey today.
- Princeton University and Rutgers University rank among The 100 Best Universities in the World.
The state of New Mexico was admitted to the Union in 1912, becoming the 47th star on America’s flag. Don’t let the name fool you though. The territory was dubbed by Spanish explorers in 1563 for its notable Mexica (or Aztec) influence, some 260 years before Mexico took its name for the same reason. Thus, New Mexico is in a sense considerably older than Mexico.
Fittingly, its system of higher education is also considerably older than the state itself. Its first postsecondary institution, the school now known as New Mexico State University, was founded in 1888 in Las Cruces. Today, the school spreads out across five campuses, with more than 18,000 students rooting for Pistol Pete and his Aggies.
Cross-state rival, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque was founded just a year later and is the state’s largest four-year school with more than 35,000 enrolled. Just a mile from the city’s downtown areas, UNM is home to an active 600-acre campuses. Indeed, beyond its 94 bachelor’s programs, 71 master’s degrees, and 37 doctoral programs, the public university sanctions more than 400 student groups. The school’s nursing, pharmacy, and medicine programs are also nationally ranked.
As compared to the 28 public institutions within, New Mexico is home to only three non-profit private schools. However, among them is the highly-touted St. John’s College Santa Fe. The far younger sibling to its Annapolis, Maryland-based namesake, St. John’s Santa Fe was established in 1964 deep in the heart of New Mexico’s vibrant and multicultural capital city. In spite of its bustling metropolitan location, the campus itself remains extremely intimate, boasting an average class size of just 14 students.
New Mexico is at once host to some of the nation’s most dynamic schools and is among the most affordable states in which to attend college. In addition to a $5,483 average in-state tuition in 2012-2013—considerably lower than the national average of $8070—New Mexico’s students hold the lowest average rate of student debt at roughly $18,600 total. Moreover, with some of the highest rates of Native American and Hispanic residents as a percentage of total population, New Mexico and its colleges are among the most culturally diverse in the U.S.
The state of New York is the fourth most populous state in the U.S. and home to the single largest urban center in the nation. Likewise, the state of New York holds the distinction of spending the largest sum of tax dollars per public school student in the nation. These figures add up to one of the largest and most varied systems of higher education in America. Indeed, with a whopping 81 public schools and 184 non-profit private institutions populating New York, its residents comprise the fourth highest enrollment total among U.S. states, with more than 578,000 pupils as of 2013.
One of the original thirteen colonies and the 11th state to ratify the U.S. Constitution, New York is also home to one of America’s nine Colonial Colleges, those universities that came to be before the start of the American Revolution. Founded in 1754, Columbia is New York’s oldest private university, its oldest college, and the fifth oldest college in the U.S. Naturally, age is not the only thing that distinguishes Columbia, a school that currently finds itself ranked #4 overall among the nation’s best schools by U.S. News & World Report.
The Ivy League institution occupies six city blocks on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, giving its 30,000 students a fully immersive metropolitan experience in addition to a number of the most reputable graduate programs available at the postsecondary level. Not only have graduates or affiliates of Columbia tallied for a combined total of 101 Nobel Prizes, but the school itself is responsible for awarding the Pulitzer Prize in literature each year.
Columbia is not New York’s only contender for top national university. In fact, the state is home to two Ivy League schools, with Cornell University distinguishing the gorgeous (pun intended, of course) topography of Ithaca. Though Cornell is an Ivy, it actually wasn’t established until 1865. Today, it is home to roughly 21,000 students.
Another of New York’s top private schools, Vassar College was established as an all-women’s college in 1861. Located in Poughkeepsie, its founder and namesake was actually a brewer of spirituous beverages named Matthew. After nearly a century as one of the original Seven Sisters, Vassar became a coeducational campus in 1969. In addition to ranking as the 13th Best Liberal Arts School in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, students at Vassar enjoy instruction from full professors only. The school holds the distinction of delegating none of its instruction to grad students or adjuncts, making its eight-to-one student-to-faculty ratio exceptionally meaningful.
The single most populous of the state’s private ‘campuses’ is that of New York University. The word campus is placed in quotations here because, like Columbia, NYU immerses its 44,000+ students right in the heart of the economic, cultural, and educational mecca that is Manhattan.
As for New York’s public school system, the State University of New York is a massive network of 64 community, technical, undergraduate, and doctoral colleges, all anchored by its four University Centers in Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, and Stony Brook.
New York State is home to countless other notable universities, perhaps most important among them, Newburgh based West Point, the vaunted service academy for the United States Army.
In spite of New York’s considerable statewide prosperity, the incredible variety of options available to its students means that costs are relatively reasonable. As compared to a national average of $8,070 for in-state public school tuition, New Yorkers pay an average of $6,556 per year. The state also performs slightly above the national average of 56%, scoring a six year graduation rate of roughly 58.1%.
- See who ranks as the best college and university in New York today.
- Five New York institutions rank among The 100 Best Universities in the World: Columbia, Cornell, NYU, Rockefeller, and Rochester.
North Carolina was among the original 13 colonies and became the 12th state to ratify the U.S. Constitution in 1789. Even before the birth of the United States, North Carolina was the site of a flourishing private university sector. Some of its smaller private institutions—Salem College and Louisburg College among them—date back to the latter part of the 18th Century. Quite a few others which populated the state at the time are now long defunct.
By contrast, the school’s oldest public university remains very much in operation today. The University of North Carolina, chartered in the same year as the Constitution’s ratification, opened doors to its first students in 1795. Now known as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the school accommodates nearly 30,000 students and is the flagship institution of a statewide UNC system encompassing no fewer than 17 public universities (which may help to explain why North Carolina is home to an impressive 75 public schools).
Chapel Hill is also one point of North Carolina’s so-called Research Triangle, along with North Carolina State University (also the state’s biggest school at 35,000 enrolled) and the highly-regarded Duke University. The latter, formed in 1835 by Quakers and Methodists, is today a non-denominational campus of 14,000 students spread across nearly 8500 luxurious acres. Noted for its Gothic architecture and its urban setting—in the fast-growing Durham metropolitan area—Duke is ranked as the 7th best school in the U.S. according to U.S. News & World Report.
Among the state’s 50 non-profit private schools, there are a few standout liberal arts institutions as well. Davidson College, located on a 665 acre campus just north of Charlotte, was established in 1837 as an all men’s school. It became coed in 1973 but is still distinguished for its intimacy, as implicated by its 10-to-one student-to-faculty ratio. Newsweek has called it the 3rd most rigorous academic college in the nation and U.S. News & World Report routinely ranks it as one of the Top Ten liberal arts schools in America.
Evidence suggests that for in-state students seeking a public education, North Carolina has a few good deals up its sleeve. The average in-state public tuition is roughly $6,223, which compares favorably to the national average of $8,070 per year. The state also performs above the national average of 56% with a 59.1% six year graduation rate.
- See who ranks as the best college and university in North Carolina today.
- Duke University and The University of North Carolina rank among The 100 Best Universities in the World.
Though North Dakota is the 4th least populated and 4th least densely populated state in the U.S., recent years have seen an acceleration of job and population growth, as well as general trends of low unemployment and rising prosperity. Becoming the 39th state upon its admission to the Union in 1889, North Dakota’s small town of Rugby is the answer to the infrequently-asked trivia question, “what is the geographical center of the North American continent?”.
Though North Dakota would not become a state until six years hence, 1883 would truly be a landmark year for the Midwestern territory. It was at this time that the state established its first public and private universities, the first of 15 and six respectively. North Dakota is also a unique case insofar as its first school in each category also remains its most highly regarded to date.
North Dakota’s private educational sector began when the University of Jamestown opened its doors under Presbyterian sponsorship. Known as Jamestown College from founding up until 2013, the four year liberal arts school is home to a shade under 1000 students, all of whom enter with guaranteed access to all the courses needed to graduate in four years. Considering the rising cost of education, this is an extremely valuable guarantee!
The state’s public school system is equally notable for its affordability. The state’s flagship public school, the University of North Dakota, will run in-state residents roughly $3,500 a year. In fact, event out-of-state enrollees pay the downright reasonable sum of $8,800 a year. These numbers, as well as the school’s Top 100 ranking among U.S. News & World Report’s best public universities, draw roughly 15,000 students to the town of Grand Forks every year. In addition to being one of only 50 schools in the country to offer both accredited medial and law schools, The University of North Dakota is home to the world-renowned John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, which specializes in pilot and air-traffic control training.
Given the numbers above, it probably comes as no surprise that North Dakota falls below the national average of $8,070 for in-state annual tuition by roughly $1500. North Dakota also demonstrates a uniquely high level of success in passing students through two-year schools, with its community college graduation rate of 38.8% far exceeding the national average of 20.4%.
The state of Ohio was admitted into the Union in 1803, becoming the 17th state and the first to be admitted under the terms of the Northwest Ordinance. It is also thus that Ohio became the site of the very first public university in the Northwest Territory. With the 1804 establishment of the University of Ohio in Athens. Today, it is the 4th largest university in the state with an enrollment of nearly 40,000 students.
As the 7th most populous state in the nation—and home to more than 400,000 students in 2013—Ohio has no shortage of large schools, or schools of any size for that matter. Its public institutions number 59. There are also 76 private non-profit schools distributed throughout the state. It also bears noting that Ohio is, at the time of writing, home to the above-average sum of 83 for-profit colleges as well.
Fortunately, Ohio’s largest school is also among its very best. Ohio State was established in 1870, just three miles from the center of Columbus, Ohio’s capital and most populous city. Ohio State constitutes no small part of that population. With roughly 58,000 students occupying its 1,765 acres, Ohio State is the third largest school in the U.S. as well as 65th best school in the world according to the Academic Ranking of World Universities.
The state school is also home to the single largest all-brass and percussion band in the world and to the Buckeyes athletics programs, one of only five universities to have earned a national championship in men’s basketball, baseball, and football.
In addition to a state known for its proud collegiate sporting tradition, Ohio is often referred to as a political bellwether state, one whose politics and ideals are often seen as a perfect microcosm of this diverse nation of ours. Look no further than Oberlin College for proof. Founded in 1833, it was at once the first coeducational and interracial college in the nation. This diversity was no doubt an asset to the school as it opened what is now the oldest continuously operating music conservatory in the nation. Today, the intimate campus serves 2,900 students.
- See who ranks as the best college and university in Oiho today.
- Ohio State University ranks among The 100 Best Universities in the World.
By the time Oklahoma became the 46th state upon its accession in 1907, its tradition of public higher education had already been established. The University of Central Oklahoma and the University of Oklahoma, Norman had already been in operation for 17 years. The former is home to 17,000 students today and was recently named by the Chronicle of Higher Education as one of the best universities to work for. The latter is both the flagship institution of the University of Oklahoma System and the largest school in the state.
Serving roughly 30,000 students today, Oklahoma University is among U.S. News & World Report’s favorite public universities. It frequently ranks in the publication’s Top 50 and according to its own reporting, ranked first among all universities private or public in its enrollment of freshman National Merit scholars in 2015. The University also notes that it is the only of its Big 12 Conference competitors to rank as having one of America’s 25 most beautiful campuses.
Speaking of the Big 12 Conference, Oklahoma University owns a proud athletic legacy, particularly through its men’s football team. The Sooners are winners of seven national championships, producers of five Heisman Trophy winners, and the launchpad for future NFL Hall of Famer Troy Aikman.
Oklahoma University is one of the state’s 30 public institutions. Another is the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma. The Chickasha-based school is uniquely situated as the only liberal arts-focused public college in the state. Though it was founded as an all women’s school in 1908, today it is home to 1200 coed students. U.S. News & World Report ranks it as one of the best public schools in which to pursue a comprehensive bachelor’s degree program.
Another of Oklahoma’s public schools, Northeastern State University holds the distinction of being home to the largest number and percentage of Native American students in the nation.
Oklahoma is also host to an additional 14 non-profit private universities, Southern Nazarene University and Oklahoma City University most notable among them.
The state of Oklahoma ranks as one of the more affordable places to pursue a public education as well. During the 2012-2013 academic year, Oklahoma’s in-state students paid an average tuition of $5,882. In addition to falling well below the national average of $8,070, this number was the eighth lowest in the U.S. during that time span.
The great northwestern state of Oregon became a U.S. territory in 1843 and, sixteen years later, the 33rd state. Sparsely populated but blessed with a diverse natural landscape, Oregon’s various colleges and universities are often ensconced in the state’s ecological bounty. Its system of higher education actually got its start not just before Oregon was a state but before it was even officially recognized as its own territory.
In 1842, Williamette University opened its doors. The private liberal arts school based out of the capital city of Salem would not only become the first university in Oregon, but it was one of the very first to spring up on America’s west coast. Today, Williamette is one of 25 non-profit private colleges throughout the state.
The most highly regarded of schools in this category is Reed College, an independent liberal arts campus that began enrolling students in 1908. Serving approximately 1500 students across 116 acres in the midst of Portland, Oregon’s most populous city, Reed stands apart both for its stye of pedagogy and its approach to student evaluation. Contrary to the conventional model, Reed’s professors teach in a conference style which eschews monologic lecturing. Moreover, the school’s progressive student assessment methods shift the emphasis away from traditional letter grades. Perhaps most uniquely, Reed is the only university in the country that houses its very own student-run nuclear reactor, a vote of confidence in the capabilities of its undergraduates if ever one existed!
Oregon is also home to 25 public universities. Tops among them is the University of Oregon in Eugene. Founded in 1876, this gorgeous 295-acre campus opened its doors to an inaugural class of 155. The flagship college in the broad University of Oregon System is home to about 21,000 students today as well as the Ducks athletics programs. In addition to a world class track team, Oregon’s NCAA Pacific-12 Conference men’s football team produced its very first Heisman Trophy winner in 2014 with NFL-bound quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Though the University of Oregon is likely the state’s best public school, Portland State University is its largest. With just about 25,000 students enrolled, the University provides both a campus and curriculum that encourage students to make use of the city around them for learning and working opportunities.
On the whole, Oregon’s university population has seen growth in recent years, especially relative to a national trend of declining enrollment. Between 2008 and 2013, full-time enrollment in Oregon’s various universities climbed by 27.7%.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was one of the original 13 colonies, the only one that does not border the Atlantic Ocean, as point of fact. Ratifying the U.S. Constitution in 1787, Pennsylvania became the second state to join the Union. It would thereafter be the site of many firsts, including establishment of the nation’s first capital and construction of its first presidential mansion. It is thus apt that Pennsylvania was home to a great many firsts in the area of education.
This legacy begins in 1740. It was then that Benjamin Franklin—who founded just about everything in his home town of Philadelphia—established the University of Pennsylvania. One of America’s nine Colonial Colleges—those universities established before the start of the American Revolution—Penn was conceived as an institution designed as much for professional training as intellectual pursuit. 275 years hence, this duality very much defines the southernmost of America’s Ivy League Universities.
The private research university, which comprises the better part of West Philadelphia, is home to 21,000 students and a highly selective 12% admission rate. In addition to routinely ranking among America’s Top Ten universities, the University of Pennsylvania would be home to America’s very first medical and business schools.
On the subject of firsts, Philadelphia would also become the site of America’s very first art school with 1805’s founding of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and of the nation’s first pharmacy school, with the 1821 establishment of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy (now University of the Sciences in Philadelphia).
Each of these is part of an absolutely massive private school sector, with the state hosting no fewer than 124 non-profit private institutions. Not all are bound to the cityscape, however. Swarthmore college, founded by Quakers in 1864, is a mere 30 minute drive from downtown Philadelphia but one might never know it by the lush 400-acre arboretum that makes up its campus. With 1600 students enrolled and a direct affiliation with the aforementioned University of Pennsylvania, the private liberal arts school is at once highly selective and well-resourced. Indeed, Swarthmore is the rare liberal arts college to offer a comprehensive engineering program, one of many reasons why it ranks 3rd overall on U.S. News & World Report’s list of top liberal arts colleges.
Public schools are also a critical part of Pennsylvania’s enormous higher education network. The University of Pittsburgh (27,000) and Philadelphia’s Temple University (35,000) rank high in terms of enrollment. But the state’s largest school by far is Penn State. Indeed, so large is the school that it has its own town, the aptly named Borough of State College. With 45,000 enrolled on its main campus—and roughly 94,000 enrolled collectively when satellite campuses are tallied—Penn State is one of the largest college communities in the U.S. Moreover, a great many of these students fill Beaver Stadium on a weekly basis to cheer on their beloved Nittany Lions football team. As a testament to the sense of community and affiliation felt by its students, Penn State enjoys the single largest network of dues-paying alumni in the world.
The quality of Pennsylvania’s many colleges is underscored by a 62.1% six year graduation rate, which compares quite favorably to the national average of 56%.
- See who ranks as the best college and university in Pennsylvania today.
- Four Pennsylvania universities rank among The 100 Best Universities in the World: University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State, Carnegie Mellon, and University of Pittsburgh.
One of the original 13 colonies and, in May of 1776, the very first to declare its independence from the British Crown, Rhode Island is also the only state whose official name is too long to fit on a license plate. Technically, the nation’s smallest and 2nd most densely populated state is called Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. The 13th and final colony to ratify the U.S. Constitution, Rhode Island became a state in 1790.
By that time, its oldest university has already been in operation for more than a quarter century. Brown University was established in 1764. In the spirit of this tiny state’s huge name, the school was initially called The College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. It wisely shortened it to Brown following a generous 1804 endowment by a benefactor of that surname. At the time, a semester’s tuition was about $5.
One of the original nine Colonial Colleges, the Ivy League institution located in Providence is, overall, the seventh oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the 15th best school in the U.S., this private research university is home to about 8,500 students, all of whom must pass through a rigorous 8% admission rate.
Brown is also distinguished as the first private university in the U.S. to accept applicants regardless of religious affiliation. And in 1847, it established what is now the Ivy League’s oldest engineering program.
Another of Rhode Island top private schools, the Roman Catholic-founded Providence College is the only North American college of any kind to be administered by Dominican Friars. With a little over 4000 students, the liberal arts school distinguishes itself by a 12-to-one student-to-faculty ratio and by the fact that all courses are instructed by full-time professors.
Uniquely, at 10, private schools substantially outnumber public schools in Rhode Island. Only three of the latter exist. The oldest and largest of these is the University of Rhode Island. Founded in 1854 as a teacher’s college, the University is home to about 15,500 students today. In addition to its exceedingly popular nursing and communications programs, Rhode Island offers its students more than 200 study abroad options.
- See who ranks as the best college and university in Rhode Island today.
- Brown University ranks among The 100 Best Universities in the World.
As one of the original 13 colonies and a leading force in the development of Southern culture and identity, South Carolina found itself on the forefront of many historical moments in American history. Though the eighth state to ratify the U.S. Constitution in 1788, it had been the first to ratify the Articles of Confederation and would subsequently become the first, in 1860, to secede from the Union. Thus, it makes pretty good sense that South Carolina was also on the forefront of higher education as it evolved south of the Mason-Dixon line.
In fact, its very first institution of higher learning would be counted among those considered Colonial Colleges were it not for the interruption caused by the Revolutionary War. Though the College of Charleston was founded in 1770, its charter would not come until 1785 and, thanks to the protracted conflict, it would not graduate its first class of students until 1794. Regardless, this colorful history makes it the thirteenth oldest college in the country, the oldest south of Virginia, and the very first municipal college in the U.S. Today, the College of Charleston is home to just over 11,000 students.
In sum, South Carolina is the site of 33 public institutions. In addition to the College of Charleston, Clemson University is a standout in the public sector. Though the school claims more than 21,000 students between undergraduate and graduate students, the 17,000 acre campus tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills provides more than ample space for all. Founded in 1889 by the state’s legislature, Clemson is ranked today as U.S. News & World Report’s 21st best public university.
Clemson is outsized only by the University of South Carolina, which is also the state’s flagship public coeducational research university. Founded in 1801, its Columbia campus is home to nearly 33,000 students and, through the Darla Moore School, one of the country’s top-ranked business programs. Also notable among state-supported schools is the Charleston-based, Citadel. The top-flight military academy opened in 1842 and remains one of the best academic, technical, and combat-training facilities in the nation.
South Carolina’s private sector is also extensive and varied, with 25 such non-profit universities and colleges in operation today. One of the most notable private schools in the state is the Spartanburg-based Wofford College. Founded in 1854, this liberal arts college holds the distinction of being one of the only four-year colleges in the American southeast to open prior to the Civil War, to remain open throughout, and to emerge from the conflict fully intact in its original location. Its survival has earned it a student population of roughly 1600 and a #58 overall Forbes ranking among America’s Best Colleges.
South Carolina’s students perform slightly better than the national average of 56%, graduating within six years at an average rate of 59.1%.
South Dakota joined the Union in 1889 along with its neighbor directly to the north. As the fifth least populous and fifth least densely populated state in the nation, South Dakota was home to just 33,000 students in 2013. However, these students do enjoy a variety of higher education options that are extensive relative to the size of the state’s population. With 12 public universities and eight non-profit private schools, the Mount Rushmore State was actually pretty well-established in the business of higher education several decades before achieving statehood.
Its first postsecondary learning institution emerged during the Midwestern state’s days as part of the Dakota territory. Augustana College was founded in 1860 by the Evangelical Lutheran Church and, in addition to being the oldest of South Dakota’s schools, is also the largest private college in the state. Granted, with 1,850 students, size is all relative. But the draw for its students is hardly a mystery. Augustana is not only home to a world-renowned choir and concert band, but nearly half of all its students participate in the school’s excellent study-abroad program. These resources contribute to the school’s ranking by U.S. News & World Report as the 3rd Best College in the Midwest.
Just two years after the opening of its first private school, South Dakota established its first public university. The University of South Dakota is a dominant presence in the small town of Vermillion. Here, the coed research university houses the state’s only medical, law, and accredited business schools. It is also the state’s only true liberal arts university, and with nearly 10,000 enrolled, its second largest school overall.
The title of the state’s most popular school belongs to South Dakota State University. The most rapidly growing of the school’s public institutions, SDSU in the town of Billings is home to just under 13,000 students.
In addition to its popular four year programs, South Dakota can actually boast one of, if not the, most successful community college sectors in the nation. South Dakota’s 52.9% three-year graduation rate from its public two-year institutions dramatically exceeds the national average of 20.4% and is by far the best mark in the nation.
Tennessee began its existence as a part of North Carolina before becoming a part of the Southwest Territory and, in 1796, the 16th state. By that time, the state’s first college had already been operational for two years. Tusculum College established itself in 1794 as a private liberal arts school under the direction of the Presbyterian Church. Tusculum calls itself a pioneer in the inclusion of women and minorities and is home, today, to just under 1000 enrollees.
With 50 statewide, private non-profit schools have come to outnumber public colleges by a rate of more than two-to-one in Tennessee. Indeed, a number of the state’s best and most popular schools remain private, including the exceedingly well-regarded Vanderbilt University. The private research university opened its doors to Nashville in 1873, becoming a critical part of the city’s identity and growth. Today, its 12,000 students enjoy access to more than 70 majors and 400 students groups, as well as a city widely recognized as the world capital for country music and a mecca for rockabilly and rock ’n roll. Vanderbilt ranks #17 overall on U.S. News & World Report’s best U.S. universities and weighs in at a highly respectable #49 in the Academic Ranking of World Universities.
Another of Tennessee’s top-notch private schools, Rhodes College is located in Tennessee’s largest city and, like Nashville, is a world capital for music (the blues, in this case). The Memphis liberal arts college was established by Freemasons in 1848 and, with just under 2000 students enrolled, offers its students the benefits of small class sizes and accessible staff members. Listed as #47 on U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of the nation’s Best Liberal Arts Colleges, Rhodes works directly with other places of higher learning—state and nationwide—to help its students procure far higher-than-average access to the grad school programs and institutions of their choice.
Tennessee is also home to 22 public institutions. The first of these was, like the state’s first private school, founded just before statehood in 1794. Established as Blount College in Knoxville, the University of Tennessee holds the largest enrollment number in the state with roughly 30,000 students to its name.
On average, students pay about $7,472 per year for public, in-state tuition. This is slightly below the national average of $8,070.
- See who ranks as the best college and university in Tennessee today.
- Vanderbilt University ranks among The 100 Best Universities in the World.
Texas is the 2nd largest state in the U.S. by land mass and the 2nd most populous as well. This ever-growing Lone Star State is also deeply prosperous, serving as the international headquarters for no fewer than 57 Fortune 500 companies, which ties it with California for the most in the nation. Likewise, Texas has been the leading national exporter among U.S. states for more than a decade. This growth is partially attributable to the state’s booming natural oil industry and partially attributable to its steady investment in its own universities.
Indeed, Texas is home to no fewer than 108 public colleges or universities, as well as 68 private, non-profit schools, and a staggering 101 for-profit private colleges. This amounts to the second highest population of full-time students in the nation, with nearly 1.5 million students in 2013!
Though Texas would not open the doors to its first postsecondary institution until 1860, the charter for Southwestern University would actually be issued before Texas became the 28th state in 1845. The eventual establishment of Southwestern University gave Texas its first college and its first private liberal arts institution. The school is located in the Central Texas town of Georgetown and remains affiliated with the Methodist Church that founded it.
Southwestern would initiate a tradition of excellence among the state’s private institutions, perhaps best highlighted by schools such as the University of Dallas. Begun as the Holy Trinity College in 1905, the school took its present day name in 1956 and emerged as a liberal arts style institution of high repute. Indeed, in addition to ranking as U.S. News & World Report’s 14th Best College in the West, the University of Dallas enrolls a remarkable 80% of its 3000-person student body in its study abroad program.
Like just about everything else in Texas, the state does universities big. As such, it is home to no fewer than eight universities with enrollment numbers larger than 30,000 apiece. A number of these are two-year institutions. But others still, including the University of Houston, the University of North Texas, Texas A&M University, and The University of Texas at Austin, are massive four-year public universities. The last of these is the largest in Texas—which is saying a lot—as well as the fifth largest campus in the nation.
Founded in 1883 in the state’s capital city, the University of Texas is home to more than 50,000 students (a number that exceeds the total student enrollment of more than a few states), as well as more than 1000 student run organizations and, in its Big 12 Conference Longhorns, one of the nation’s most beloved football programs. The University of Texas excels in far more than size, of course, According to the Academic Ranking of World Universities, the University is the 27th best in the nation and 35th best in the world.
- See who ranks as the best college and university in Texas today.
- Four Texas universities rank among The 100 Best Universities in the World: University of Texas–Austin, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Rice University, and Texas A&M.
Utah became the 45th state to enter the Union in 1896 but its system of higher education was already quite well-established by this time. Its first postsecondary institution would actually come into existence almost a half-century before the territory gained statehood. The University of Utah opened its doors as the University of Deseret in 1850. Its current name would be granted in 1892 and it remains today as the flagship public university in the state.
With 28,000 enrolled, the Salt Lake City school is the largest of the state’s eight public institutions. It is not, however, the state’s largest enrollment tally overall. This title belongs to the privately owned Brigham Young University. With 34,000 enrolled, BYU is reflective of the state’s unique cultural makeup. With more than 60% of Utah’s population belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—a fact which makes it the most religiously homogenous state in the nation—it seems logical that Utah would also be home to the single largest faith-based university in the nation.
Based in Provo, BYU is also the third largest private university in the nation and, since its founding in 1875, has emerged as a perennial Top 100 among American universities, according to U.S. News & World Report. Brigham Young is one of 11 private institutions and, in line with the state’s spiritual inclination, many of its best schools remain affiliated with their founding churches. Among them is the Salt Lake City-based Westminster College. Like BYU, Westminster was founded in 1875.
Administered by the United Church of Christ, the small but picturesque liberal arts school is home to 2,800 today. It bears noting that Westminster is the state’s only accredited liberal arts school, which makes it quite the desirable destination for those so inclined.
Another feature which makes college in Utah a desirable option, its average public in-state tuition rate of $5,375 is well-below the national average of $8,070 and ranks as the fourth lowest in the nation.
- See who ranks as the best college and university in Utah today.
- The University of Utah ranks among The 100 Best Universities in the World.
Vermont is a true original among states. Indeed, not only was Vermont the very first state added to the Union following the unification of the original 13 colonies, but it is also the only state east of Texas that once constituted its own independent republic. It was during this period of independence, which coincided with the Revolutionary War, that Vermont established its first postsecondary learning institution.
In 1787, Castleton State College was founded as a public, liberal arts school. Statehood would follow four years later, as would the establishment of Vermont’s first public research university. In 1791, the University of Vermont opened its halls in Burlington, which is at once Vermont’s most populous city and the least populous of any state’s largest municipality (got that?).
Today, this community of roughly 12,000 enjoys a campus of breathtaking beauty and a Top 100 national ranking, according to U.S. News & World Report. The school also recently ranked as #18 in a Wall Street Journal survey ranking public universities for their success in placing students in prestigious postgraduate programs. And if you’re into that sort of thing, the freewheeling student population at the University of Vermont participates by the hundreds in the annual, student government-organized midnight Naked Bike Ride, which is exactly what it sounds like. It is perhaps not a surprise that this modestly sized student population is the single largest in the U.S. state boasting the highest ratio of dairy cows-to-citizens.
The University of Vermont is one of six public schools but Vermont is also well-recognized for the excellence of its private, non-profit universities, which total 17. Bennington College is a shining example. Founded as an all-women’s college in 1932, the liberal arts school went coed in 1969. With roughly 800 students sharing more than 400 acres in the rural town from which the school takes its name, Bennington is a perfect portrait of academic intimacy.
Indeed, as the 2nd least populous state in the nation, Vermont is home to any number of intimate educational experiences at the postsecondary level. This may help to account for the 62.9% six year graduation rate of its students, which far exceeds the national average of 56%.
For all intents and purposes, this is where everything started. The Virginia Colony was founded by the London Company in 1607 and was the very first permanent British settlement in the ‘New World.’ As such, Virginia has played a formative role in just about every aspect of this nation’s development, from its political orientation to its agricultural roots. Most assuredly, this pioneering role extended into education. Technically, Virginia was the 10th state to ratify the U.S. Constitution in 1788.
Its tradition of higher education, however, had begun almost a century prior with the 1693 chartering of The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg. This was not only just the second college created in the colonies and the first established in the South, but it is also widely recognized as the birthplace of the college Greek system. When Hellenic scholar John Heath was denied entrance into the school’s Latin-Letter fraternities, he seized the theme of revolution so popular in that year of 1776 and founded the Phi Beta Kappa house. This was the beginning of the modern college fraternity.
Today, William & Mary’s #6 overall ranking makes it one of three Virginia institutions to place among U.S. News & World Report’s Top 25 Public Colleges. The other two are Virginia Tech (#25) and the University of Virginia (#2). Certainly, the fact that the latter public research university is so well-regarded would be welcome news today to its founder, one Thomas Jefferson. Establishing the Charlottesville-based campus in 1819, the Founding Father presided over a great many details in its curriculum and construction.
Among the 25,000 person community’s claims to fame are its continuity during the American Civil War and the fact that it was once forced to expel poet Edgar Allen Poe when a gambling defeat caused him delinquency on tuition payments. Today, there are 40 public colleges or universities in the state of Virginia. Largest among them with roughly 32,000 students apiece are George Mason University and Virginia Commonwealth University. Both are exceeded in enrollment by the two-year Northern Virginia Community College, which claims a roster of just over 41,000.
Virginia is also home to an additional 40 non-profit private universities. Most notable among them is the Hamden-Sydney College, located in a town by the same name. Its claims to fame are the fact that it remains one of only three all-men’s liberal arts colleges in the nation and that it was the final college established before the outbreak of Revolutionary hostilities. Today, the 1200 acre school is home to roughly 1100 students, which amounts to more than an acre per student! This generous endowment of facilities must surely contribute to the school’s #4 overall Forbes ranking among colleges in the South.
Among Virginia’s many additional distinctions in the area of higher education, James Madison University has regularly been ranked as the top regional public master’s program in the South for more than 20 years. Moreover, in addition to being a top-ranked public liberal arts college, the Virginia Military Institute is the oldest state military college in the U.S.
Perhaps the greatest distinction though is Virginia’s exceptional rate of six year graduation. Its measure of 68.4% far exceeds the national average of 56%, and ranks as 4th best in the nation.
The Pacific Northwest state of Washington become a part of the U.S. by way of the Oregon Treaty in 1846. During the 43 years that passed before its accession as the 42nd state in 1889, Washington honed an educational tradition that is now distinguished by stellar results.
There is an argument that the title for the territory’s first postsecondary institution goes to Whitman college, founded in the friendly town of Walla Walla. The private college was started as a seminary by a territorial legislative charter in 1859. It did not, however, become the four-year liberal arts school that stands today until around 1883. Presently, its 1,600 students enjoy a nine-to-one student-to-faculty ratio and the far-reaching reputation of a school routinely ranked as a Top 50 liberal arts school by U.S. News & World Report. Today, it is one of 24 non-profit private schools in the state.
Given the transformation of Whitman from theological to secular, it is probably more technically accurate to call the University of Washington the state’s oldest university. The public university was founded in 1861 in Seattle and is now among the longest-running colleges on the West Coast. Moreover, with 43,000 students occupying its 703-acre urban campus, the University ranks as the largest in the entire Northwest region. It is also one of 43 public institutions in a state where private schools are outnumbered almost two-to-one.
There is also an argument that the State of Washington offers its students one of the better returns for their money. At an average cost of $8,856, public in-state tuition for students in Washington hovers right around the national average of $8,070 per year. By contrast, the state’s 68.9% rate of six year graduation shatters the national average of 56% and ranks as third overall in the nation.
- See who ranks as the best college and university in Washington today.
- The University of Washington ranks among The 100 Best Universities in the World.
The history of West Virginia is quite unique among American states. Indeed, it is the only one in the Union to have been carved out of an existing state against the latter’s will. It is also unique among southern states for being classified as such in spite of its northern affiliation and sympathy during the Civil War. As tensions mounted toward this conflict, West Virginia gained independence because it differed from its mother state on the issue of slavery. It was thus that West Virginia became the nation’s 35th state in 1863, at the height of war.
Its first postsecondary institution actually predated the war and the achievement of statehood by more than 20 years. Bethany College opened its doors in 1840 and remains to this day a private, Christian-affiliated, liberal arts college. Bethany is one of only ten non-profit private schools in the state.
Another notable private school, West Virginia Wesleyan College also remains affiliated with the United Methodist Church that founded it in 1890. Based in the small mountain town of Buckhannon, West Virginia Wesley is home to 1400 students and an average class size of less than 20 students. These conditions have earned it a #12 overall ranking among Southern schools according to U.S. News & World Report. When affordability is factored in, that ranking shoots up to #2.
West Virginia also sanctions 23 public colleges or universities. The largest and best among them is West Virginia University, which sprouted up as the Agricultural College of West Virginia in 1867. The 913 acre campus rests in Morgantown, where the Monongahela River and the Appalachian trail meet, casting the educational experience in a spellbindingly beautiful environment.
With roughly 30,000 students occupying its three mini-campuses, West Virginia University ranks as one of the Best 100 public universities in the country according to U.S. News & World Report. Also of note to sports history buffs, a football game played between West Virginia University and the University of Pittsburgh became the very first of such contests to be broadcast on the radio.
Also of distinction, West Virginia’s average in-state tuition for public school students totaled $5,599 in the 2012-2013 academic year. This falls well below the national average of $8,070 and ranks West Virginia as among the most affordable states in which to attend a public university.
When the Wisconsin Territory became the 30th state in 1848, it also became a center for abolitionist activity. As the nation inched toward war, Wisconsin aggressively declared itself on the side of the Union, an act which initiated a long history of progressive politics for the Midwestern/Great Lakes state. Today, that history is best represented in the tradition of excellence that permeates its system of higher education. In spite of the dominant role played by dairy agriculture in the state, education has been a critical priority for the state, even during its days as a territory.
In 1846, Carroll College emerged from the ashes of the Prarieville Academy. The private liberal arts school located in Waukesha has operated continuously since that time, with the exception of a brief suspension of operation during the Civil War. Today, it routinely ranks among U.S. News & World Report’s Top 50 Midwest Regional Colleges. Carroll is one of 31 private non-profit liberal arts schools in the state.
Another top performer, Beloit College opened its doors in 1846 as well. With 1,300 students enjoying an average class size of just 15 students, Beloit is recognized by U.S. News & World Report as offering the best value among National Liberal Arts colleges.
Wisconsin’s public postsecondary sector began just as the territory achieved statehood, with the 1848 founding of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. A picturesque campus flanked by a pair of lakes, the university is home to roughly 43,000 students, who have the opportunity to choose from among 750 different student organizations. The University of Wisconsin doesn’t just rank high among public universities. In fact, Times Higher Education recently named it the 31st best school in the world!
In addition to a six-year graduation rate that exceeds the national average of 56% by 4.4%, 2010 saw the state graduate 31.3% of students from its two-year institutions within three years, good for the sixth best mark nationwide.
- See who ranks as the best college and university in Wisconsin today.
- The University of Wisconsin ranks among The 100 Best Universities in the World.
In addition to being the final entry on our little tour of higher education in America, Wyoming is the nation’s least populous and least densely populated state. Indeed, the state’s entire population could practically fit inside the University of Central Florida. It stands to reason, then, that Wyoming would register one of the lowest college enrollment populations in the nation as well. As of 2013, the state was home to a grand total of 25,669 full-time students.
Wyoming became the 44th state upon its admission to the Union in 1890. By that time, its first public postsecondary school was already celebrating its fourth birthday. The University of Wyoming was established in 1886 on the elevated Laramie Plains. The research university is now the largest in the state with a roster of roughly 12,000. It is also the flagship campus of the University of Wyoming System and ranks among the top 15% of four-year universities, according to the Princeton Review. In addition to its academic reputation, University of Wyoming is the primary cultural draw in its region, which means it is often a destination for others throughout the state when touring concerts, athletics, or art exhibitions are held.
Today, the University of Wyoming is one of eight public universities in the state. The university also lays claim to a number of reputable affiliate schools, such as the University of Wyoming-Casper College Center. This school represents a highly unique model, forged as it is from a partnership between a two-year college and the broader state university system. Operating as a satellite campus, often for those who have obligations at home that might prevent them from traveling to the Laramie Plains location, Casper was founded in 1976 and holds a stellar reputation for post-graduate job placement.
Ranking the state’s private non-profit options is pretty easy since there is only one; the College America-Cheyenne. The state also has one private, for-profit school, the vocationally focused Wyotech-Laramie.
What Wyoming lacks in options, it more than makes up for in cost. With an average yearly tuition for in-state public school students that totaled $3,642, the cost of college in Wyoming is less than half the national average of $8,070, good for most affordable in the nation!