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.