is home to 10 respected state universities and a wide range of private
institutions, some church-affiliated, some secular, some for a single
gender, some offering liberal arts and others specializing in a
narrow subject area. Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne,
for instance, is the only independent, technological university
in the Southeast.
The states academic (and, yes, athletic) powerhouses are the
University of Florida and its rival, Florida State. Between them,
they account for more than 80,000 of the states undergrad and graduate
students. In fact, there are more students at UF than there are
locals in the town of Gainesville, where the main campus is situated.
Both universities recognized nationally even internationally
for their academic programs. UF ranks eighth in the nation
among universities, public and private, in attracting freshman National
Merit scholars. Students studying subjects as diverse as hard sciences
and performing arts beat a path to FSUs door.
But big universities can be overwhelming for some students. Thats
why many prefer smaller institutions where they can get more attention
from professors and feel more like a person than a number. With
some 20,000 students, including those in grad programs, Florida
Atlantic University in Boca Raton is about half the size of its
behemoth brethren in the state university system. Private colleges
can be more intimate still. Rollins in Winter Park and Eckerd in
St. Pete have in the neighborhood of 1,500 enrollees.
While all Florida schools strive for diversity in their student
populations, the state also has several African-American colleges
with proud histories. In the 1960s, Florida A&M University in
Tallahassee became the first black institution to become a member
of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, one of the
nations respected educational accrediting bodies. Bethune-Cookman
College, founded in 1904, bears the name of its founder, Dr. Mary
McLeod Bethune, a noted educator and civil rights leader in the
early decades of the 20th century.
Besides academics and tradition, another factor helps draw students
to Florida colleges and universities: athletics. The three main
university teams the Gators of UF, Seminoles of FSU and Canes
of University of Miami consistently rank high in national
competitions. Graduates, some of them out of school 20 years of
more, continue to be loyal to their teams and pack the stands for
One last component does its part to lure students to the Sunshine
State: the weather. After all, subtropical climes and nearby beaches
can make hitting the books almost bearable.