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by G.K.Sharman

Florida 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 state’s 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 FSU’s door.

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But big universities can be overwhelming for some students. That’s 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 nation’s 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 games.

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.