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.