A 50-State Look at Colleges & Universities in the U.S.

| TBS Staff

Are you ready to discover your college program?

The United States is a place of incredible diversity, a union of 50 unique states, each with its own history, culture, and character. From the establishment of America’s first permanent colony in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607 to Alaska’s 1959 accession to statehood, each of these states has helped to shape our collective identity. And through independence, Civil War, and civil rights, the only constant is change.

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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 in rebel colleges such as Transylvania University (est. 1780), the University of South Carolina (est. 1801), and the University of Mississippi (est. 1848) as the nation churned toward Civil War. It was also in the midst of this terrible and bloody conflict that America passed the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act into law (1862), appropriating public funding for state-sponsored university systems such as Cornell University (est. 1865), Purdue University (est. 1869), and The Ohio State University (est. 1870). That same period would see the proliferation of the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Schools such as Howard University (1867), Morehouse University (1867), and Florida A&M University (1887) would subsequently play a leading role in the Civil Rights movement.

During times of war and peace, America’s colleges and universities have been a bellwether for who we are as a nation and where we’re going. The same is true today. If you truly wish to understand the United States, exploring the higher education landscape is a good starting point. But you need to take it state by state.

That can only mean one thing … road trip!

Climb aboard as we journey across these fifty states. Take in the breathtaking natural beauty. Marvel at the gleaming metropoli. Tolerate the occasional stagnant stretch of endless nothingness. And most importantly, get a bird’s eye view of the higher education options that each state has to offer, both public and private.

Oh, and don’t let the order throw you. These are alphabetical, rather than geographical. (So much for that road trip metaphor.) In real life, Alabama and Alaska are nowhere near one another.

*All figures denoting the number of public and private colleges and universities in each state are drawn from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and are current as of June 2018. Unless otherwise noted, all figures refer to four-year undergraduate institutions.

Articles of related interest:
The 100 Best Colleges and Universities by State 2018–2019
The 50 Best Colleges in the United States
The 50 Best Community Colleges in the United States


University of North Alabama
Alabama’s oldest university: University of North Alabama, founded in 1830.

Alabama is home to 41 four-year colleges and universities — 19 public universities and 22 private nonprofit institutions — and can trace its higher education to the 1818 founding of a Tuscaloosa-based learning seminary. This would become the University of Alabama in 1831. With more than 36,000 students enrolled as of 2014, UA is also the state’s largest campus.

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Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines
Alaska’s oldest University: Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines, now University of Alaska Fairbanks, founded in 1917.

As the most sparsely populated state in the union, Alaska is home to the fewest number of four-year colleges and universities in the U.S (tied with Wyoming). The sum total of its public, four-year, postsecondary institutions comes to four, three of which fall under the University of Alaska umbrella. Alaska is also home to two private, nonprofit schools. 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 would become the University of Alaska in 1925.

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University of Arizona Old Main
Arizona’s oldest university: University of Arizona, founded in 1885.

Arizona was the last of the 48 contiguous states to join the U.S., becoming a part of the nation on Valentine’s Day, 1912. However, the University of Arizona, the state’s first postsecondary educational institution, can actually trace its roots to 1885. Today the top-ranked, four-year university is one of 14 public institutions in the state. Arizona is also home to 11 private, nonprofit colleges and is one of the nation’s most fertile private, for-profit college scenes, with no fewer than 77 of such institutions dotting its higher education landscape.

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University of the Ozarks
Arkansas’ oldest university: Cane Hill College, now University of the Ozarks, founded in 1834.

In 1872, the Arkansas Industrial University housed its first class, which largely focused on high school level education. This Fayetteville school would ultimately become the University of Arkansas, and with more 25,000 enrollees, the largest of 11 public schools in the state. Arkansas is also home to 13 nonprofit private colleges.

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Santa Clara University
California’s oldest university: Santa Clara University, founded in 1851.

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 home to a formidable population of college and university students. With more than 200,000 students enrolled across the University of California’s 10 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 122 community colleges, California’s public higher education system is the largest in the U.S. With 53 public four-year institutions and 172 nonprofit private schools, California offers its residents more options than any other state in the nation.

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University of Denver
Colorado’s oldest university: University of Denver, founded in 1864.

The 38th state, Colorado was a birthday gift for the United States on its 100th birthday. The Centennial State joined the Union in 1876. However, its higher education history dates to its days as a territory. Founded in 1864, just miles from the bustling downtown area, the University of Denver is the oldest college in the Rocky Mountain region, and one of Colorado’s 16 private nonprofit colleges. Colorado is also home to 18 publicly funded four-year colleges or universities, as well as a rapidly growing population of young, new residents.

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Yale University
Connecticut’s oldest university: Yale University, founded in 1701.

Connecticut’s higher education story begins in no less venerable a site than the New Haven campus where Yale University came to be in 1701. Yale would become the first of the state’s 18 private, nonprofit universities and helped to set a template for the Connecticut’s tradition of academic excellence. An additional 11 public four-year 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).

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University of Delaware
Delaware’s oldest university: University of Delaware, founded in 1743.

Delaware was one of the original 13 Colonies, and the first state to ratify the United States Constitution. It can thus trace its college roots back to the 1743 founding of a small private school in New London, Pennsylvania. Moving south in 1765 and gaining its charter as the Academy of Newark in 1769, the University of Delaware is attended by nearly 22,000 students today. It’s also one of only five public schools and four private colleges in this sixth least populous state.

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Florida State University Bryan Hall
Florida’s oldest university: Florida State University, founded in 1851.

With well over 600 miles of beach bordering the state of Florida, it’s no wonder so many college students 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 among its 42 public and 87 private colleges and universities as of 2013. In 1851, Florida State University became the first college in the Sunshine State, but it is the University of Florida in Gainesville, founded as a small seminary in 1853, that is the state’s largest. In fact, with more than 50,000 students, it’s one of the five largest colleges in the United States.

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University of Georgia Old College
Georgia’s oldest university: University of Georgia, founded in 1785.

Georgia was the last formed of the 13 original Colonies but the first to start its own college. 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 30 public colleges and universities as well as an additional 38 nonprofit private institutions.

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University of Hawaii at Manoa
Hawaii’s oldest university: University of Hawaii at Manoa, founded in 1907.

There’s more to Hawaii than just fabulous beaches and a stunning array of flora. It’s also home to four four-year public colleges and universities, which are distributed across the state’s major islands. Hawaii claims an additional six nonprofit private colleges. And believe it or not, if you wish to study in Hawaii, at $7,731 per year, the tuition for the typical four-year Hawaiian college was slightly lower in 2012 13 than the national average of $8,070.

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Brigham Young University Maeser Building
Idaho’s oldest university: Brigham Young University, founded in 1875.

You could fit all of New England inside of Idaho. In spite of its size though, this Rocky Mountain state is only 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 four public four-year universities and seven nonprofit private institutions. 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 largest percentage increase of college enrollment in the U.S. with a robust 31.5% rate of growth.

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McKendree University
Illinois’ oldest university: Lebanon Seminary, now McKendree University, founded in 1828.

Since its admission into the Union in 1818, Illinois has been a leader in higher education. Its 12 public institutions and 93 nonprofit private schools provide residents and visitors with an impressive spectrum of four-year 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.

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Vincennes University
Indiana’s oldest university: Vincennes University, founded in 1801.

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 in its founding constitution. This resolution would give way to the 1820 establishment of the Indiana Seminary in Bloomington. This was 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. Today, it’s part of a college landscape that includes 23 public colleges and universities and 40 nonprofit private universities.

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Loras College
Iowa’s oldest university: Loras College, founded in 1839.

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 three public four-year universities or colleges and 34 nonprofit 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. Today, Iowa’s students are a model of success, with a 69.4% six-year rate of graduation that not only exceeds the national average of 56%, but ranks as the second-best graduation rate from four-year public schools nationwide.

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Baker University
Kansas’ oldest university: Baker University, founded in 1858.

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 both Northern abolitionists and Southern pro-slavery settlers rushing to populate the future state. The state’s college history began in the midst of this heated confrontation with the 1858 founding of Baker University. Today, Kansas boasts eight public four-year institutions, 26 nonprofit private schools, and in the University of Kansas Jayhawks, one of the most storied men’s basketball programs in NCAA history.

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

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, 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 eight public four-year universities and 28 nonprofit private schools. With more than 30,000 students, the University of Kentucky in Lexington is at once the state’s largest school and home to the Wildcats, proud owners of the record for most NCAA men’s basketball tournament appearances at 58.

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Centenary College of Louisiana
Louisiana’s oldest university: Centenary College of Louisiana, founded in 1825.

In 1812, Louisiana became the 18th state to join the U.S. However, its first public university did not come to be until more than a decade later. 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 and one of 15 nonprofit private schools in the state. Louisiana is also home to 19 public colleges. With more than 28,000 enrollees, the Baton Rouge-based Louisiana State University is the largest public school in the state and the alma mater of NBA all-time great Shaquille O’Neal.

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Bowdoin College
Maine’s oldest university: Bowdoin College, founded in 1794.

Maine became a state in 1820, but its history of higher education begins during its time as a section of Massachusetts. In 1794, Bowdoin College was founded in the small coastal town of Brunswick. Today, Bowdoin is one of 11 nonprofit 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 its first public school, the future University of Maine, in 1865. Today, the Orono-based school is the largest of Maine’s eight public four-year institutions.

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St. John’s College
Maryland’s oldest university: St. John’s College, founded in 1696.

Maryland was one of the original 13 Colonies and the seventh to ratify the U.S. Constitution. But its tradition of higher education dates back to the earliest days of American settlement with the 1696 founding of King William’s Preparatory School in 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. Today, St. John’s is one of 20 private nonprofit colleges in the state. Maryland also specializes in enormous public campuses. The largest four-year school among its 14 public institutions, the University of Maryland, is home to about 69,000 across multiple campuses.

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Harvard University
Massachusetts’ oldest university: Harvard University, founded in 1636.

One of the original 13 Colonies and the sixth state to ratify the U.S. Constitution, Massachusetts has long been at the forefront of America’s educational evolution. Indeed, Massachusetts is home to what is often regarded as the 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, Harvard would eventually become the secular academic powerhouse we know today, and one of 78 nonprofit private schools throughout the state. Massachusetts is also home to 15 public four-year schools.

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University of Michigan Ann Arbor
Michigan’s oldest university: University of Michigan–Ann Arbor, founded in 1817.

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. Not only did Michigan’s oldest continuously operated college open its doors 20 years before the territory became a state, but the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor would also set the mold for the state’s 21 public colleges and universities. Michigan’s considerable array of postsecondary options also includes 64 nonprofit private colleges or universities.

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University of Minnesota Twin Cities
Minnesota’s oldest university: University of Minnesota–Twin Cities, founded in 1851.

Minnesota joined the U.S. in 1858 but the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities actually predates the establishment of the state by seven years. Today, its two campuses are home to 65,000 students. Minnesota is among the best educated and most literate states in the U.S., thanks in part to its 12 public four-year schools, including a state college and university system that ranks as the 14th-largest enrollment base in the United States. Minnesota is also home to 36 nonprofit private colleges.

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Mississippi College
Mississippi’s oldest university: Mississippi College, founded in 1826.

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. Today, Mississippi College is one of nine nonprofit private colleges in the state. The oldest of the state’s public institutions is the University of Mississippi, or Ole Miss as it is affectionately called. Though the 20th state joined the Union in 1817, it would be 31 years before Mississippi opened its first public college, and another 73 years before Ole Miss had any company in that category. Today, there are nine public four-year colleges or universities in Mississippi.

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Saint Louis University
Missouri’s oldest university: Saint Louis University, founded in 1818.

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 13 public institutions and 60 nonprofit 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% between 2008 and 2013 (a period during which most states saw declines).

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Rocky Mountain College
Montana’s oldest university: Rocky Mountain College, founded in 1878.

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 states, a fact owed to the excellent tradition within the few universities that are located there, including seven public institutions and five private nonprofit schools.

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Peru State College
Nebraska’s oldest university: Peru State College, founded in 1867.

Nebraska joined the Union in 1867 as its 37th state. Founded in 1869, the University of Nebraska is at once the oldest and largest of seven public four-year colleges or universities in the state. There are an additional 17 private nonprofit universities in Nebraska. 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.

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University of Nevada–Reno
Nevada’s oldest university: University of Nevada–Reno, founded in 1874.

The 36th State to join the Union, Nevada is sometimes 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 the nation was plunged into Civil War. Though the state was largely arid desert at the time, the discoveries of silver and gold brought rapid migration and, in 1874, the establishment of the State University of Nevada in Elko. Known as University of Nevada–Reno, it is, today, one of six public universities in the state. There are just an additional four private nonprofit four-year colleges in Nevada: National University, Roseman University of Health Sciences, Sierra Nevada College, and Wongu University of Oriental Medicine.

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Dartmouth College
New Hampshire’s oldest university: Dartmouth College, founded in 1769.

New Hampshire’s higher education began in the Colonial era, with the 1769 establishment of Dartmouth as a school for Native Americans. In addition to being the oldest school in New Hampshire, it is one of only nine still-active Colonial Colleges, those extant schools founded before the Revolution. Dartmouth is also one of 12 nonprofit private schools in the Granite State. New Hampshire is home to an additional six 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 just 38,834 students.

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Princeton University
New Jersey’s oldest university: Princeton University, founded in 1746.

New Jersey is home to one of the nation’s most storied systems of higher education, as the only state with not one but two of the nation’s original nine Colonial Colleges. Princeton University was established in 1746 — only the fourth university in the U.S. to gain its charter. Two decades later, Queen’s College opened its doors in New Brunswick, becoming only the eighth college to do so, and also eventually becoming Rutgers University. Princeton and Rutgers also share the important distinction of facing off, in 1869, in history’s first ever intercollegiate football game. Today, New Jersey is home to 13 public four-year schools and 33 nonprofit private schools.

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New Mexico State University
New Mexico’s oldest university: Las Cruces College, now New Mexico State University, founded in 1888.

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 might more accurately be called Old Mexico. Fittingly, its system of higher education is also considerably older than the state itself, with the school now known as New Mexico State University opening its doors in 1888. In total, New Mexico is home to nine public four-year institutions and just three nonprofit private schools. 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.

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Columbia University
New York’s oldest university: King’s College, now Columbia University, founded in 1754.

New York is the fourth most populous state in the U.S., home to the 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. With 45 public schools, 180 nonprofit private institutions, and more than 578,000 pupils populating New York as of 2013, its residents comprise the fourth-highest enrollment total among U.S. states.

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Salem College
North Carolina’s oldest university: Salem College, founded in 1772.

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. Today, North Carolina is home to 50 nonprofit private schools and 16 public four-year schools. The first among these, the University of North Carolina, opened its doors in 1795. Today this original Chapel Hill campus is the flagship institution in a UNC system encompassing 17 public universities.

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University of North Dakota
North Dakota’s oldest university: University of North Dakota, founded in 1883.

Though North Dakota is the fourth least populated and fourth 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. Though North Dakota would not become the 39th state until 1889, 1883 would actually be a landmark year for education in the Midwestern territory. It was at this time that the state established both its first public and private universities, the first of nine and five respectively. North Dakota’s private educational sector began when the University of Jamestown opened its doors under Presbyterian sponsorship. The University of North Dakota is the state’s flagship public school, and at $3,500 a year, a downright bargain.

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Ohio University
Ohio’s oldest university: Ohio University, founded in 1804.

The state of Ohio was admitted into the Union in 1803, becoming the 17th state, and, quickly thereafter, home to the first public university in the so-called Northwest Territory. In 1804, the University of Ohio in Athens became the first of the state’s 36 public institutions. With more than 400,000 students statewide, as of 2013, Ohio also offers 75 private nonprofit schools and, at the time of writing, an above-average number of 126 for-profit colleges as well.

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University of Central Oklahoma
Oklahoma’s oldest university: University of Central Oklahoma, founded in 1890.

By the time Oklahoma became the 46th state in 1907, its tradition of public higher education had already been well-established. The University of Central Oklahoma and the University of Oklahoma–Norman had both been in operation for 17 years. Today, the University of Oklahoma System is the largest of the state’s 18 public four-year institutions. Oklahoma is also host to an additional 15 nonprofit private universities. The state of Oklahoma ranks as one of the more affordable places to pursue a public education as well. During the 2012–13 academic year, Oklahoma’s in-state students paid an average tuition of $5,882, the eighth lowest rate in the U.S. during that time span.

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Willamette University
Oregon’s oldest university: Willamette University, founded in 1842.

Oregon became a U.S. territory in 1843 and, 16 years later, the 33rd state, but its college system actually got its start before Oregon was even officially recognized as its own territory. Williamette University opened its doors in 1842, becoming the first of 25 nonprofit private colleges throughout the state. Oregon is also home to nine public four-year universities. With about 25,000 enrollees, Portland State University is the largest among them. 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%.

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University of Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania’s oldest university: University of Pennsylvania, founded in 1740.

The commonwealth of Pennsylvania was one of the original 13 Colonies, ratifying the U.S. Constitution in 1787. Pennsylvania became the second state to join the Union, by which time its first college was already well-established. Founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1740, the University of Pennsylvania is one of America’s nine Colonial Colleges and one the state’s 112 nonprofit private institutions. Pennsylvania’s 45 public four-year schools are also a critical part of the state’s enormous higher education network. With 45,000 enrolled on its main campus — and roughly 94,000 enrolled collectively when satellite campuses are included — Penn State is one of the largest college communities in the U.S.

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Brown University
Rhode Island’s oldest university: Brown University, founded in 1764.

By the time Rhode Island became a state in 1790, its oldest university has already been in operation for more than a quarter century. Brown University was established in 1764 as The College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Wisely shortened to Brown following a generous 1804 endowment by a benefactor of that surname, it is one of the original remaining nine Colonial Colleges, the seventh oldest institution of higher learning in the United States, and one of 10 private nonprofit schools in Rhode Island. The modestly sized state also has a modestly sized public school system, with a total of just two public colleges.

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College of Charleston
South Carolina’s oldest university: College of Charleston, founded in 1770.

As one of the original 13 Colonies and a leading force in the development of Southern culture and identity, South Carolina was also on the forefront of higher education as it evolved south of the Mason-Dixon line. 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 after the war in 1785. Today, South Carolina is the site of 13 public four-year institutions and 22 nonprofit schools.

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Augustana College
South Dakota’s oldest university: Augustana College, founded in 1860.

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 seven public universities and seven nonprofit private schools. Also noteworthy, South Dakota can boast a successful community college sectors in the nation, and possibly the most successful. 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.

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Tusculum College
Tennessee’s oldest university: Tusculum College, founded in 1794.

Tennessee began its existence as a region 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. Today, Tennessee’s 47 private nonprofit schools outnumber the state’s 10 public colleges.

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Southwestern University
Texas’ oldest university: Southwestern University, founded in 1840.

Texas is the second-largest state in the U.S. by land mass and the second most populous as well. 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. Today, Texas is home to no fewer than 69 private nonprofit schools, 45 public colleges or universities, and a staggering 254 for-profit private colleges. This amounts to the second-highest population of full-time students in the nation, with nearly 1.5 million enrollees!

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University of Utah
Utah’s oldest university: University of Utah, founded in 1850.

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 seven public institutions. The title of largest Utah school, however, goes to Brigham Young University. With 34,000 enrolled, BYU is also the third-largest private university in the nation and one of 11 private institutions in Utah.

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Castleton State College
Vermont’s oldest university: Castleton State College, founded in 1787.

Vermont is a true original among states. Indeed, not only was Vermont the 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 with the 1787 founding of Castleton State College. This was the first of five public schools in Vermont, which is also well-recognized for the excellence of its 17 private nonprofit universities. As the second least populous state in the nation, Vermont is home to a 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%.

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College of William & Mary
Virginia’s oldest university: College of William & Mary, founded in 1693.

The Virginia Colony was founded by the London Company in 1607 and was the first permanent British settlement in the New World. As such, Virginia has played a formative role in every aspect of this nation’s development. Our tradition of higher education is certainly no exception. With the 1693 chartering of The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia forged just the second college created in the Colonies and the first established in the South. Today, William & Mary is among the state’s 16 public universities or colleges. Virginia is home to an additional 42 nonprofit private universities. Virginia’s students are notable for their exceptional rate of six-year graduation which, at 68.4%, far exceeds the national average of 56% and ranks as fourth-best in the nation.

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University of Washington
Washington’s oldest university: University of Washington, founded in 1861.

Washington become a part of the U.S. by way of the Oregon Treaty in 1846. During the 43 years that passed before its 1889 granting of statehood, Washington honed an educational tradition now distinguished by stellar results. There is an argument that the territory’s first postsecondary institution was 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. Today, it is one of 25 nonprofit private schools in the state. The first charted school in the state, however, was the University of Washington, founded in 1861 in Seattle and now among the oldest colleges in operation on the West Coast. It is also one of 38 public institutions in a state where private schools are outnumbered almost two-to-one.

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Bethany College
West Virginia’s oldest university: Bethany College, founded in 1840.

The history of West Virginia is unique among American states. It is the only one in the Union to have been carved out of an existing state against that’s state’s will. In spite of Virginia’s objections, West Virginia achieved statehood in 1863, at the height of the Civil War, and sided with the North on the issue of slavery. Perhaps this wise secession from the Confederacy can be attributed to its strong grounding in education. West Virginia’s college history actually predated statehood by more than 20 years. Bethany College opened its doors in 1840, the first of 11 nonprofit private schools in the state. West Virginia also sanctions 13 public colleges or universities, the largest among them, West Virginia University, which serves roughly 30,000 students across three mini-campuses.

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Carroll University
Wisconsin’s oldest university: Carroll University, founded in 1846.

The Wisconsin Territory became the 30th state in 1848, but its first private college was already two years old. Carroll College in Waukesha was founded in 1846 and is, today, one of 35 private nonprofit liberal arts schools in the state. Wisconsin’s public postsecondary sector began just as it achieved statehood, with the 1848 founding of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the first of 17 public four-year schools in the state. Combining its Madison and Milwaukee campuses, today the University of Wisconsin is home to more than 70,000 students.

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University of Wyoming
Wyoming’s oldest university: University of Wyoming, founded in 1886.

In addition to being the final entry on our coast-to-coast tour of higher education in America, Wyoming is the nation’s least populous and least densely populated state. In fact, the state’s entire population could 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 across eight public universities in the state, and only one of those, the University of Wyoming, is a four-year school. The state also has one private, for-profit school, the vocationally focused Wyotech–Laramie.

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