The Oldest College in Every US State (M…

The Oldest College in Every US State (MAP)

Have you ever wondered which colleges are the oldest in America? We’re here with answers! Erudera has listed the oldest college in every U.S. state, so dive right in!

Key Highlights

  • The oldest university in the US is Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts (founded on September 8, 1636). This makes Massachusetts home to the oldest college in the U.S.
  • Virginia is the second U.S. state with the oldest college, with the College of William & Mary officially chartered in 1693. College of William & Mary is also the first U.S. college with a Royal Charter.
  • This list includes seven out of eight Ivy League universities — Harvard University in Massachusetts is the oldest (1636), followed by Yale University (1701) in Connecticut, University of Pennsylvania (1740) in Pennsylvania, Princeton University (1746) in New Jersey, Columbia University (1754) in New York, Brown University (1764) in Rhode Island, and Dartmouth College (1769) in New Hampshire.
  • The list also includes the oldest college in the territory of Washington, D.C., specifically Georgetown University, founded in 1789. This university is also the oldest Catholic and Jesuit institution of higher learning in the United States.
  • Georgia was the first state to charter a publicly funded university, making the University of Georgia the birthplace of public higher education in America.
  • Alaska was the last U.S. state to establish its first university. The University of Alaska Fairbanks was founded in 1917.
The Oldest College in Every US State

1. Alabama: The University of Alabama

The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is the state of Alabama’s oldest public university, with a history dating back to 1820, when this institution was first established as a seminary named “The University of the State of Alabama,” according to the university’s website. On April 18, 1831, the University officially opened under the leadership of its first University president, Alva Woods. 52 students had already enrolled one month later, on May 28.

Around the same year: Spring Hill College, a private Jesuit college, was established in 1830 by Michael Portier, who was Mobile's first Catholic bishop.

2. Alaska: The University of Alaska Fairbanks

The University of Alaska Fairbanks, a public land-grant research university in College, Alaska, was founded in 1917, 42 years before Alaska became a state. On May 3, 1917, the Governor of Alaska Territory, John Strong, signed a bill from the Territorial Legislature to establish what is today known as the University of Alaska, initially named the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines. The college opened its doors to students in 1922.

3. Arizona: The University of Arizona

The University of Arizona, a public land-grant research university in Tucson, Arizona, was founded in 1885, 27 years before Arizona became a state. They completed the first building, Old Main, in 1890, which was used for the School of Agriculture and had classrooms, labs, and a mess hall.

4. Arkansas: The University of the Ozarks

The University of the Ozarks is a private university in Clarksville, Arkansas. Its story dates back to 1834, when Cumberland Presbyterian officials met to establish Cane Hill School in Cane Hill, Arkansas. In 1921, it changed its name to the College of the Ozarks and finally became the University of the Ozarks in 1987.

5. California: Santa Clara University

Santa Clara University is a private Jesuit university in Santa Clara, California. It’s California’s oldest operating institution of higher learning. In 1777, Father Junipero Serra founded Mission Santa Clara de Asís, the eighth of California's original 21 missions. Santa Clara College opened its doors in 1851, started offering college courses in 1853, and became “The University of Santa Clara” in 1912, with the addition of law and engineering schools.

Around the same year: California Wesleyan College received its state charter in 1851 but did not enroll its first students until 1852. Although Santa Clara University asserts itself as California's first higher education institution, having opened its doors in 1851, California Wesleyan College is the oldest chartered institution in the state, according to the LA Times.

6. Colorado: University of Denver

The University of Denver is a private research university in Denver, Colorado. It was founded in 1864 as the Colorado Seminary, just six years after the founding of Denver City in the Colorado Territory at that time. According to the university’s website, the university established one of the country's first business schools and the first school of social work between the Mississippi and the West Coast.

7. Connecticut: Yale University

Yale University is a private Ivy League research university in New Haven, Connecticut. Founded in 1701. The university's history dates back to the 1640s when colonial clergymen initiated the founding of a local college in the European liberal education tradition. The Connecticut legislature adopted a charter to establish a Collegiate School in 1701, and the school officially became Yale College in 1718, named after Welsh merchant Elihu Yale.

8. Delaware: University of Delaware

Located in Newark, Delaware, with roots back to 1743, the University of Delaware is a privately governed, state-assisted land-grant research university. Its history began when the Rev. Dr. Francis Alison responded to a petition from the Presbytery of Lewes to establish a school in New London, Pennsylvania. In 1765, the school moved to Newark, later becoming Delaware College in 1843. In 1914, a women's college with 58 students was founded, and in 1921, these two colleges merged to form the University of Delaware.

9. Florida: Florida State University

Florida State University is a public research university in Tallahassee, Florida, founded in 1851. Among the State University System of Florida's 12 largest and oldest institutions, it can trace its roots back to 1823 when the Territorial Legislature initiated the development of a higher education system.

10. Georgia: The University of Georgia

With a rich history that ‘spans more than 230 years,’ the University of Georgia is a public land-grant research university in Athens, Georgia. According to the university website, on January 27, 1785, the University of Georgia was officially incorporated by the state General Assembly. Georgia was the first state to charter a publicly funded university, establishing UGA as the birthplace of public higher education in America.

11. Hawaii: The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa is a public research university located in the Mānoa neighborhood of Honolulu, Hawaii, and it operates as a land-grant institution. Established in 1907 under the Morrill Act, the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa originated as a land-grant college focusing on agriculture and mechanical arts. Regular classes began in 1908.

12. Idaho: Brigham Young University-Idaho

Brigham Young University–Idaho is a private college in Rexburg, Idaho, founded in 1888. The college is owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It started as Bannock Stake Academy in 1888 and later became Ricks Academy (1903), Ricks College (1923), and BYU-Idaho (2001).

Around the same year: The University of Idaho is a public land-grant research university in Moscow, Idaho, founded in 1889.

13. Illinois: McKendree University in Lebanon

McKendree University is a private university in Lebanon, Illinois. Founded in 1828 by pioneering Methodists, McKendree is the oldest college in Illinois. Initially known as "Lebanon Seminary," the institution opened in two rented sheds, accommodating 72 students, according to the university.

14. Indiana: Vincennes University

Vincennes University is a public college founded in 1801 by William Henry Harrison, the ninth U.S. President and then-governor of the Indiana Territory. It was incorporated as Vincennes University on November 29, 1806, according to the university website.

15. Iowa: Loras College

Loras College is a private Catholic liberal arts college in Dubuque, Iowa, founded in 1839, seven years before Iowa became a state.

16. Kansas: Baker University

Baker University, located in Baldwin City, Kansas, is a small private university established in February 1858, and it welcomed its first students later in the same year. It was named in honor of Osmon Cleander Baker, a notable scholar and bishop of what is now the United Methodist Church, according to the university. It is the first four-year university in Kansas.

17. Kentucky: Transylvania University

Transylvania University is a private university in Lexington, Kentucky. It was founded in 1780 and was the first university in Kentucky. Its story begins as Transylvania Seminary, the pioneering higher education institution west of the Alleghenies, founded through an act of the Virginia assembly and received support from Governor Thomas Jefferson. It was established as a university in 1799, creating the first law school and medical school in the West, according to the university.

18. Louisiana: Centenary College of Louisiana

Centenary College of Louisiana, located in Shreveport, Louisiana, is a private liberal arts institution with ties to the United Methodist Church. Among the 3,000+ colleges and universities in the United States, Centenary College of Louisiana is the 43rd oldest, established in 1825 during James Monroe's presidency as the College of Louisiana, originally situated in Jackson.

19. Maine: Bowdoin College in Brunswick

Bowdoin College is a private liberal arts college in Brunswick, Maine. As Maine's oldest institution, it received its charter in 1794 and began instruction in 1802. The college is named after Governor James Bowdoin II, who was an amateur scientist and a hero of the Revolution known for his efforts in putting down Shays' Rebellion. A significant portion of its initial endowment came from his son.

20. Maryland: St. John's College

St. John's College is a private liberal arts college in Annapolis, Maryland, founded in 1696 as King William’s School. It is the third oldest college in the United States, after Harvard (1636) and the College of William and Mary (1693). In 1784, the state of Maryland chartered St. John's College, merging it with King William's School. Four of the college's founders were signatories of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

21. Massachusetts: Harvard University

Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Harvard, the first college in the American colonies, was founded on September 8, 1636, with John Harvard, a significant benefactor, donating half of his estate and a library of over 400 books. The Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony officially founded Harvard University through a vote.

22. Michigan: University of Michigan - Ann Arbor

The University of Michigan is a public research university in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was founded in 1817 as a preparatory school in Detroit, providing students with additional training before they went to one of the few existing American colleges of that era, like Harvard, Princeton, or Yale. It later relocated to its current location in 1837, becoming a prominent global research university.

23. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Twin Cities

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, is a public research university with roots back to 1851, when the Minnesota Territorial Legislature, alongside Governor Alexander Ramsey, chartered the University of Minnesota and appointed a board of regents seven years before Minnesota became a state. Over almost 170 years, the U of M has transformed into one of the foremost public research universities in the United States.

24. Mississippi: Mississippi College in Clinton

Mississippi College is a private Christian university of liberal arts and sciences. Mississippi College, the oldest college in the state, was initially chartered as Hampstead Academy in 1826. It underwent name changes to Mississippi Academy in 1827 and, ultimately, Mississippi College in 1830.

25. Missouri: Saint Louis University

SLU, a private Jesuit research university, made history as the first institution of higher learning west of the Mississippi River. The Saint Louis Academy (later called Saint Louis College) was founded in 1818 in a private residence near the river at the request of Rev. Louis William DuBourg, the Catholic Bishop of Louisiana. In 1832, the college, now known as Saint Louis University (SLU), obtained an official charter from the State of Missouri, according to the university website.

26. Montana: Rocky Mountain College

Rocky Mountain College is a private college in Billings, Montana. It is the oldest college in Montana, dating back to 1878. As the story of three colleges, Montana Collegiate Institute in Deer Lodge welcomed its first class in 1878. Soon after, Wesleyan College opened in Helena, and Billings Polytechnic Institute (BPI) recruited students in Billings. These three colleges merged in 1947, forming Billings Polytechnic Institute, later known as Rocky Mountain College.

27. Nebraska: Peru State College

Peru State College, a public college in Peru, Nebraska, was founded in 1867 as Nebraska’s first public institution of higher education. What began as a teacher training school with just one building and 60 students in 1867 has evolved over the past century and a half into a cutting-edge institution providing a wide range of educational programs.

28. Nevada: University of Nevada in Reno

The University of Nevada, Reno, a public land-grant research university, was founded in 1874. Initially established in Elko, it functioned more as a preparatory school than a full-fledged university. However, in 1885-86, the Board of Regents relocated the University to Reno, marking a turning point. The campus opened its first building, Morrill Hall, in 1886, welcoming 35 students. By 1936, University enrollment exceeded 1,000 students.

29. New Hampshire: Dartmouth College

Dartmouth College, located in Hanover, New Hampshire, is a private Ivy League research university. Established in 1769 by Eleazar Wheelock, a Congregational minister, the college’s initial aim was for the “education and instruction of youth of the Indian tribes in this land... English Youth, and any others,” according to the university’s website.

30. New Jersey: Princeton University

Princeton University, a private Ivy League research university in Princeton, New Jersey, was founded in 1746 by the Presbyterian Synod in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Known as the College of New Jersey, it moved to Newark in 1747 and then from Newark to Princeton in 1756. Its name officially changed to Princeton University in 1896. According to the website, the university has been led by 20 presidents.

31. New Mexico: New Mexico State University in Las Cruces

New Mexico State University is a public land-grant research university in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Founded in 1888, New Mexico State University (NMSU) began as Las Cruces College and was later renamed New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. In 1960, it became formally recognized as NMSU by the constitution of New Mexico.

32. New York: Columbia University

Columbia University is a private Ivy League research university in New York City. It was founded in 1754 as King's College, an all-male institution established under a royal charter granted by King George II of Great Britain. It reopened under a new name, Columbia College, in 1784. The university established an affiliated undergraduate school for women, Barnard College, in 1889. It officially became Columbia University in the City of New York in 1896. The university began admitting women in the fall of 1983.

33. North Carolina: Salem College

Salem College is a private women's liberal arts college in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Salem College's origins can be traced back to April 1772, when the Moravian community in Salem, North Carolina, established a school for girls and appointed Sister Elisabeth Oesterlein as its first teacher. Despite no longer being affiliated with the Moravian Church, the school's history remains deeply integrated with the town of Salem, according to the school’s website.

34. North Dakota: The University of North Dakota in Grand Forks

Founded in 1883, six years before North Dakota became a state, the University of North Dakota is a public research university in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Main, the first University campus building, opened for classes on September 8, 1884. Notably, the university’s first graduating class (1889) included six women and two men, the school’s first Leaders in Action. Among them, Dr. Cora Smith King, who holds the distinction of being the first woman in the state to receive a medical license and was a strong advocate for women's rights.

Around the same years: Jamestown University, a private Christian university in Jamestown, North Dakota, was founded in 1883. Classes began on September 29, 1886, with 35 enrolled students.

35. Ohio: Ohio University in Athens

Ohio University is a public research university in Athens, Ohio. Founded on February 18, 1804, Ohio University is the oldest college in the state. It began its educational journey in 1808 with just one building, three students, and Professor Jacob Lindley. In a historic moment, in 1828, Ohio University awarded an A.B. degree to John Newton Templeton, its first black graduate and only the third black man in the U.S. to earn a college degree.

36. Oklahoma: Bacone College

Bacone College is a private tribal college in Muskogee, Oklahoma, formerly known as The Indian University. It started its first classes on February 9, 1880, at "Jones Cottage" in Tahlequah, Indian Territory, with an initial enrollment of three students. In 1881, it received its charter from the Muscogee-Creek Nation, with the school's primary mission being to offer Christian education to American Indians.

37. Oregon: Willamette University in Salem

Willamette University is a private liberal arts college with campuses in both Salem and Portland, Oregon. Founded in 1842, its origins trace back to a school for Native American children run by Reverend Jason Lee and other Methodist missionaries from 1834 to 1844. The founding of Willamette University began when, on January 17, 1842, the missionary community met to discuss establishing a school for settlers' children. By February 1, a board of trustees was appointed, and they adopted a constitution and bylaws for the new institution, which they named the Oregon Institute.

38. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania is a private Ivy League research university in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Penn traces its beginnings to 1740, as a plan to build a Philadelphia charity school that would also serve as a house of worship. Penn secured a collegiate charter in 1755, graduated its first class in 1757, established the first medical school in the American colonies in 1765, and was the first American institution of higher education to earn the title of a university in 1779, according to the university website.

39. Rhode Island: Brown University

Brown University is a private Ivy League research university in Providence, Rhode Island. Established in 1764, Brown was the third college in New England and the seventh in Colonial America. It was the first Ivy League institution to welcome students of all religious backgrounds. Previously known as the College of Rhode Island, it was renamed Brown University in 1804 in honor of a generous $5,000 donation from Nicholas Brown, according to the university.

40. South Carolina: The College of Charleston

The College of Charleston, situated in Charleston, South Carolina, is a public university founded in 1770. It is the oldest university in South Carolina and the 13th oldest in the United States. The college was chartered in 1785, and the first classes were held on the ground floor of Reverend Smith's home on Glebe Street, which currently serves as the residence for College of Charleston presidents.

41. South Dakota: Augustana University in Sioux Falls

Augustana University, a private Lutheran university in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was founded in 1860, with roots traced back to Hillsboro Academy in Hillsboro, Illinois, in 1835. In 1860, Norwegian and Swedish church leaders met in Jefferson Prairie, Illinois, to create the Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod. This decision set the stage for Professor Lars Paul Esbjorn and his followers to establish the Augustana Seminary. This "college on wheels" made several stops, including Paxton, Illinois; Marshall, Wisconsin; Beloit, Iowa; and Canton, South Dakota, before ultimately settling in Sioux Falls in 1918.

Around the same year: The University of South Dakota, a public research university in Vermillion, South Dakota, was established by the Dakota Territorial Legislature in 1862. It opened in 1882, making it the very first public higher education institution in the Dakotas.

42. Tennessee: Tusculum University

Tusculum University is a private Presbyterian institution in Tusculum, Tennessee. According to the university’s website, Tusculum University has its roots in two separate institutions. Greeneville College was chartered in 1794, just two years before Tennessee became a state, with Reverend Hezekiah Balch as its president. Additionally, in 1818, Samuel Doak and his son, Samuel Witherspoon Doak, founded Tusculum Academy. The two institutions merged in 1868 as Tusculum College. It received university status in 2018.

43. Texas: Southwestern University

Southwestern University is a private liberal arts college in Georgetown, Texas, founded in 1840. In 1835, Colonel William B. Travis wrote a letter to the New York Christian Advocate, urging the establishment of a Methodist presence in the Republic of Texas. Five years later, in 1840, the first of Southwestern's four root colleges came into being through the visionary efforts of Methodist missionary Martin Ruter.

44. Utah: University of Utah

The University of Utah is a public research university in Salt Lake City, Utah. It had its beginnings in 1850 when it was established by the Provisional State of Deseret, a precursor to Utah. In 1892, the school's name changed from the University of Deseret to the University of Utah. In 1900, it moved to a new campus.

45. Vermont: Castleton State College

A public university in Castleton, Vermont, Castleton State College traces its origins to 1787, when the Vermont General Assembly granted a charter for the Rutland County Grammar School in Castleton village. Back then, grammar schools served as a bridge between local common schools and the limited number of colleges in New England, representing the initial stage of higher education. Among colleges that exist today, Castleton is Vermont's oldest and the nation's 18th oldest. From July 2023, Castleton University has been part of Vermont State University.

46. Virginia: College of William & Mary

College of William & Mary is a public research university officially chartered in 1693. According to the university website, the institution's original plans date back to 1618, even before Harvard. King William III and Queen Mary II of England signed the charter for the college to be established in the Virginia Colony as "The College of William and Mary in Virginia." Among other firsts, the college is also the first U.S. institution with a Royal Charter.

47. Washington: The University of Washington in Seattle

The University of Washington in Seattle is a public research university in Seattle, Washington, founded in 1861 as the Territorial University of Washington. Classes began in the same year in a building on the site currently occupied by the Olympic Hotel. According to the university website, the university granted its first collegiate degree 15 years after it was founded. Clara A. McCarty received a Bachelor of Science diploma in June 1876.

48. West Virginia: West Liberty University

West Liberty University is a public university in West Liberty, West Virginia, founded in 1837. As West Virginia's oldest institution of higher education, it has a rich history dating back to its establishment in 1837 as West Liberty Academy, a remarkable 26 years prior to the state's admission to the Union.

Around the same year: Bethany College, a private liberal arts college in Bethany, West Virginia, was founded in 1840.

49. Wisconsin: Carroll University in Waukesha

Founded in 1846, Carroll University is a private university in Waukesha, Wisconsin, affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. In 1841, Prairieville settlers in the Wisconsin Territory founded an academy that evolved into Carroll College five years later. Chartered by the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature on January 31, 1846, this was two years before Wisconsin became a state. In 2008, the Board of Trustees unanimously voted to rename the institution Carroll University.

Around the same year: The University of Wisconsin-Madison, founded in 1848, is a public land-grant research university in Madison, Wisconsin.

50. Wyoming: The University of Wyoming

The University of Wyoming, a public land-grant research university in Laramie, Wyoming, was founded in 1886, four years before Wyoming became a state. According to the university, in September 1887, the University of Wyoming welcomed 42 students and five faculty members. Both women and men were part of the first student body and faculty.

Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University

Georgetown University, situated in Washington, D.C., is the oldest Catholic and Jesuit institution of higher learning in the United States. It was founded by John Carroll in 1789 when he secured one acre of land overlooking Georgetown village. Classes started in 1792 with over 40 students, and in 1817, the university awarded its first two bachelor's degrees.

Published on September 22, 2023