First State University

UNC—Chapel Hill and the University of Georgia compete for the claim of first state university. Each has a fair case to make: Georgia was the first to be chartered, and UNC the first to open. The practice of public support for higher education predates both schools, and even the formation of the United States. Many of the earliest colleges in the country, including Harvard and William & Mary, received at least some direct support from their colonial governments. With the late eighteenth-century establishment of UNC and the University of Georgia, newly formed state governments took a more direct role by issuing charters and providing substantial funding for state universities. North Carolina's 1776 constitution declares, "All useful learning shall be duly encouraged, and promoted, in one or more universities." The legislature in Georgia issued a charter for the University of Georgia in 1785. The North Carolina legislature followed a few years later, chartering the University of North Carolina in 1789. But the North Carolinians were quicker to act. Construction of UNC began in 1793, the first students were admitted in 1795, and the first class graduated in 1798. The University of Georgia would not admit its first students until 1801.


Date Established: 1789

Date Range: 1789 – Present