Pennsylvania’s Educational Legacy
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was one of the original 13 colonies, the only one that does not border the Atlantic Ocean, as point of fact. Ratifying the U.S. Constitution in 1787, Pennsylvania became the second state to join the Union. It would thereafter be the site of many firsts, including establishment of the nation’s first capital and construction of its first presidential mansion. It is thus apt that Pennsylvania was home to a great many firsts in the area of education.
This legacy begins in 1740. It was then that Benjamin Franklin—who founded just about everything in his home town of Philadelphia—established the University of Pennsylvania. One of America's nine Colonial Colleges—those universities established before the start of the American Revolution—Penn was conceived as an institution designed as much for professional training as intellectual pursuit. 275 years hence, this duality very much defines the southernmost of America’s Ivy League Universities.
The private research university, which comprises the better part of West Philadelphia, is home to 21,000 students and a highly selective 12% admission rate. In addition to routinely ranking among America’s Top Ten universities, the University of Pennsylvania would be home to America’s very first medical and business schools.
On the subject of firsts, Philadelphia would also become the site of America’s very first art school with 1805’s founding of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and of the nation’s first pharmacy school, with the 1821 establishment of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy (now University of the Sciences in Philadelphia).
Each of these is part of an absolutely massive private school sector, with the state hosting no fewer than 124 non-profit private institutions. Not all are bound to the cityscape, however. Swarthmore college, founded by Quakers in 1864, is a mere 30 minute drive from downtown Philadelphia but one might never know it by the lush 400-acre arboretum that makes up its campus. With 1600 students enrolled and a direct affiliation with the aforementioned University of Pennsylvania, the private liberal arts school is at once highly selective and well-resourced. Indeed, Swarthmore is the rare liberal arts college to offer a comprehensive engineering program, one of many reasons why it ranks 3rd overall on U.S. News & World Report’s list of top liberal arts colleges.
Public schools are also a critical part of Pennsylvania's enormous higher education network. The University of Pittsburgh (27,000) and Philadelphia’s Temple University (35,000) rank high in terms of enrollment. But the state’s largest school by far is Penn State. Indeed, so large is the school that it has its own town, the aptly named Borough of State College. With 45,000 enrolled on its main campus—and roughly 94,000 enrolled collectively when satellite campuses are tallied—Penn State is one of the largest college communities in the U.S. Moreover, a great many of these students fill Beaver Stadium on a weekly basis to cheer on their beloved Nittany Lions football team. As a testament to the sense of community and affiliation felt by its students, Penn State enjoys the single largest network of dues-paying alumni in the world.
The quality of Pennsylvania's many colleges is underscored by a 62.1% six year graduation rate, which compares quite favorably to the national average of 56%.
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