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.
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