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Kentucky's Educational Legacy

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.

Transylvania University
Kentucky's oldest university: Transylvania University, founded in 1780.

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.

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