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Timeline of Higher Education in America

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The United States has been home to institutions of higher education since the 1600s when Harvard University was established in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After its establishment, a surge of colleges and universities opened their doors to awaiting students and we are still seeing it to this day. 

2019 marks 70 wonderful years of Grand Canyon University’s existence, and we thought it would be appropriate to see when every other college in the U.S. was established. With this in mind, we created an interactive map showing the year every U.S.-based college was formed. By using the slider at the bottom of the map, you can see the incredible expansion of colleges throughout the country, or you can see exactly which colleges were founded in each year. Take a look below!

Sidenote: If you go to 1949, you’ll see Grand Canyon University pop up on the map!

It’s interesting to see the gaps in time between the formation of the earliest U.S. colleges and universities. There are several decades between the establishment of Harvard University and the College of William and Mary. After William and Mary, it takes several more decades for colleges and universities to start appearing outside the general northeastern part of the country. The establishment of higher education seems to have peaked in the late 1880s to early 1890s. Since then, however, university establishment has slowed, but there are colleges still being formed as late as 2018.

Graphic showing the oldest US college: Harvard University

In addition to the map, we decided to highlight a few pieces of information that we found to be notable. Obviously, Harvard University takes special recognition as being the oldest college in the United States (1636). For an idea of just how old that is, Harvard shares this year with the drafting of the first law of the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts.

States with the oldest colleges & universities on average

The next piece of information we looked at is the states with the oldest and newest colleges and universities on average. Maryland has 55 colleges and universities have an average founding year of 1879, making it the state with oldest colleges and universities on average. Maryland is followed by Pennsylvania (1882), Iowa (1883), Kentucky (1886), and South Carolina (1887).

States with the newest colleges & universities on average

The state with the youngest colleges and universities on average is Nevada, where the average founding year is 1963. The most recent college founded in Nevada is Nevada State College, which was founded in 2002. After Nevada comes Alaska (1953), Florida (1950), Hawaii (1950), and Wyoming (1946).

In the 70 years that Grand Canyon University has been operating, we’ve helped students prepare for and succeed in their careers by providing them with a quality education that can benefit them for the rest of their lives. Be sure to check our history at GCU to learn more about our past development and future mission and vision.