As one of the original 13 colonies and a leading force in the development of Southern culture and identity, South Carolina found itself on the forefront of many historical moments in American history. Though the eighth state to ratify the U.S. Constitution in 1788, it had been the first to ratify the Articles of Confederation and would subsequently become the first, in 1860, to secede from the Union. Thus, it makes pretty good sense that South Carolina was also on the forefront of higher education as it evolved south of the Mason-Dixon line.
In fact, 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 1785 and, thanks to the protracted conflict, it would not graduate its first class of students until 1794. Regardless, this colorful history makes it the thirteenth oldest college in the country, the oldest south of Virginia, and the very first municipal college in the U.S. Today, the College of Charleston is home to just over 11,000 students.
In sum, South Carolina is the site of 33 public institutions. In addition to the College of Charleston, Clemson University is a standout in the public sector. Though the school claims more than 21,000 students between undergraduate and graduate students, the 17,000 acre campus tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills provides more than ample space for all. Founded in 1889 by the state's legislature, Clemson is ranked today as U.S. News & World Report's 21st best public university.
Clemson is outsized only by the University of South Carolina, which is also the state's flagship public coeducational research university. Founded in 1801, its Columbia campus is home to nearly 33,000 students and, through the Darla Moore School, one of the country's top-ranked business programs. Also notable among state-supported schools is the Charleston-based, Citadel. The top-flight military academy opened in 1842 and remains one of the best academic, technical, and combat-training facilities in the nation.
South Carolina's private sector is also extensive and varied, with 25 such non-profit universities and colleges in operation today. One of the most notable private schools in the state is the Spartanburg-based Wofford College. Founded in 1854, this liberal arts college holds the distinction of being one of the only four-year colleges in the American southeast to open prior to the Civil War, to remain open throughout, and to emerge from the conflict fully intact in its original location. Its survival has earned it a student population of roughly 1600 and a #58 overall Forbes ranking among America's Best Colleges.
South Carolina's students perform slightly better than the national average of 56%, graduating within six years at an average rate of 59.1%.