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State university

"State university" and "State college" redirect here. For other state universities, see State university (disambiguation). For national universities, see National University. For the town in Pennsylvania, see State College, Pennsylvania.

A state university system in the United States is a group of public universities supported by an individual state, or a similar entity such as the District of Columbia. These systems constitute the majority of public-funded universities in the country. Each state supports at least one such system.

Federal funded colleges and universities are limited to military personnel and government employees. Members of foreign militaries and governments also attend some schools. These schools include the United States military academies, Naval Postgraduate School, and military staff colleges.

A state university system normally means a single legal entity and administration, but may consist of several institutions, each with its own identity as a university. Some states—such as California and Texas—support more than one such system.

State universities get subsidies from their states. The amount of the subsidy varies from university to university and state to state, but the effect is to lower tuition costs below that of private universities. As more and more Americans attend college, and private tuition rates increase well beyond the rate of inflation, admission to state universities is becoming more and more competitive.


Consideration of public higher education was included in the earliest westward expansion of the US, with the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which established the Northwest Territory. It stated: "Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged." Ohio University (1804) was the first state school so established in the territory, with the other developing states following suit. On a national basis, the state university system was also assisted by the establishment of the Land-grant universities, under the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Acts of 1862 and 1890.

The tradition of publicly funded state colleges began primarily in the southern states, where other private educational institutions were less developed. The University of Georgia is the country's first chartered public university, established on January 27, 1785 by an act of the General Assembly of Georgia. However, the University of Georgia did not hold classes until 16 years later in the fall of 1801. The first collegiate-level classes conducted by a public institution were at another Georgia institution, the Academy of Richmond County, chartered in 1783 with instruction beginning in 1785. While the Academy, later known as Augusta State University and now merged into Georgia Regents University, was founded as a high school, it taught college-level classes from its creation, and its graduates were accepted into four-year colleges as sophomores or juniors, effectively making it a combination of a modern high school and community college. The school eventually dropped high school instruction, but remained a community college until becoming a four-year institution in 1963. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, while chartered four years after Georgia in 1789, was the first state university to hold classes. Classes began at UNC in 1795, and UNC is the only state university to have graduated students in the 18th century. The University of South Carolina was chartered in 1801 and held classes for the first time in 1805. The University of Tennessee was originally chartered as Blount College in 1794, but had a very difficult beginning—graduating only one student—and did not begin receiving the promised state funds until 1807 when it was renamed East Tennessee University. The first state university that matches most modern definitions of the term—including a strict secular course of study, offering professional and graduate coursework, and allowing students to select their coursework—was the University of Virginia. Established due to the work of Thomas Jefferson and grounded in his philosophy of a strong secular state, UVA was chartered in 1819 and first held classes in 1825.

Determining which state university was the "first" is further complicated by the case of New Jersey's state university system. Facing the embarrassment of being the only state left that had not established a state university, the New Jersey Legislature decided to commission an already existing private university as its state university, rather than build one from the ground up, as other states had done. Rutgers University, which had previously been a private school affiliated with the Dutch Reformed Church, was designated as a state university by acts of the legislature in 1945 and 1956. It became a 'System' with the absorptions of Newark University in 1946 and The College of South Jersey in 1950, becoming Rutgers' Newark and Camden campuses, respectively. Rutgers was chartered in 1766, nineteen years before the University of Georgia, but did not become the State University of New Jersey for another 179 years.

Castleton State College in Vermont is the oldest state university in New England, chartered in 1787. This was soon followed by the charter of The University of Vermont (UVM) in 1791. However, neither institution was a "state university" in the modern sense of the term until many decades later. Castleton State began as the Rutland County Grammar School. It did not become a postsecondary institution until the campus became home to the State Normal School in 1867, which was privately owned despite its name, and did not become a state-owned institution until 1912. UVM was chartered as a private institution and did not become a public university until 1865.

The largest state university system in the United States is the State University of New York system with over 400,000 students.[1] However, the combined enrollment of the University of California, the California State University, and the California Community Colleges systems exceeds some 2,300,000 students.[2]

Many state universities were founded in the middle 19th century, in particular supported by the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Acts of 1862 and 1890.

Many state universities—such as UCLA, Chico State, and SUNY Geneseo—were founded as normal schools.

Following the Second World War, many state universities were merged with smaller institutions to achieve economies of scale in administration and also to raise the prestige of the degrees granted by some smaller institutions. A prominent example of this is the State University of New York, which is the largest comprehensive system of universities, colleges, and community colleges in the world.[3]

During the 1970s, further mergers took place and the concept of a state system was widely adopted.

Some states have more than one state university system. For example, California has the University of California (considered top-tier) and the California State University (considered lower tier) as four-year university systems, and the California Community Colleges as its community college system.

State college system

Some states maintain a separate system for state colleges (often specified as community colleges, technical colleges, or junior colleges), that is distinct from their university system. Examples include the California Community Colleges System, the Florida College System, and the Technical College System of Georgia. In these states, colleges focus primarily on awarding two-year associate's degrees and professional certificates, while universities focus on four-year bachelor's degrees and more advanced degrees. The California Community Colleges System is the largest in the world. In 2009 the Florida College System changed its name from the Florida Community College System, reflecting the fact that some of its colleges now offer four-year degrees. Some of its colleges were designated "state colleges", distinguishing them from community colleges in that they offer more four year degrees than community colleges.[4]

Historic names

During the growth and restructuring of the state systems, names such as University of California have changed their meanings over time.

  • In some cases, the unqualified name has become the official name of the university system that includes the institution which is the original bearer of the name. Examples include:
  • In other cases, the unqualified name remains the official name of an individual institution which is now part of a larger university system. Examples include:
  • In some cases, the unqualified name now has no official status, but is used informally for either an individual university (particularly in sporting and similar contexts) or for the university system of which it is now part (particularly in administrative and academic contexts). Examples include:

See also


External links

  • History of the University of Texas.
  • University of California, Berkeley, discusses some of the history of the systems.
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