State university system

State university system

A state university system in the United States is a group of public universities supported by an individual U.S. state or a similar entity such as the District of Columbia. As there are no federally run colleges or universities in the United States other than the United States military academies and military staff colleges, these systems constitute the majority of public-funded universities in the country. Each state supports at least one such system.

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

State universities get a subsidy from their state. 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.



The tradition of publicly funded state colleges began primarily in the southern states. The University of Georgia is the country's oldest chartered public university established on January 27, 1785 by an act of the General Assembly of Georgia. However, The University of Georgia would not hold classes until 16 years later in the fall of 1801. 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 graduate 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 hadn't 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 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 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 in 1791.

The largest state university system is California State University with over 400,000 students.

Many state universities were founded in the mid-1800s, in particular supported by the Morril Land-Grant Colleges Acts of 1862 and 1890.

Many state universities, such as UCLA and Chico State 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.

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

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 multi-campus system that includes the campus which is the original bearer of the name. Examples include:
** "University of California".
** "University of Illinois".

* In other cases, the unqualified name remains the official name of an individual campus which is now part of a larger system. Examples include:
** "University of Alabama".
** "University of Houston".

* In some cases, the unqualified name now has no official status, but is used informally for either an individual campus (particularly in sporting and similar contexts) or for the system of which it is now part (particularly in administrative and academic contexts). Examples include:
** "University of Texas".
** "University of Wisconsin System".

ee also

* List of American state universities

External links

* [ History of the University of Texas] .
* [ The Future of Flagship Universities] , lecture given at Texas A&M University by Robert M. Berdahl, historian and Chancellor, University of California, Berkeley, discusses some of the history of the systems.

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