My travels with College Parents of America haven’t yet brought me to all fifty states, but I’ve had the pleasure of communicating with each of you – who are scattered among all of our states – and of learning the idiosyncrasies related to education in each of your locales. There is much to improve, of course, but also much to celebrate.

And what better time than the 4th of July to share with you 25 reasons to celebrate education across America?

So what follows then is the first half of a complete list of each and every state – in alphabetical order – followed by some positive nugget about education in that state that I have gleaned in my role at College Parents of America. I’ll complete the list of all 50 states, with comments included, in a later July column. So you fact-checkers out there don’t have a field day, let’s just call these “impressions” as opposed to strict, every t-crossed “facts.”

Now, the first half of our alphabetical and educational journey across America:

ALABAMA is home to some of the premier “HBCUs” in the U.S., a term that refers to “Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” public and private colleges and universities that have provided outstanding educations to men and women of all colors, but primarily from the African-American community.

ALASKA provides excellent K-12, and college, education opportunities to members of the Native American community, who sometimes must travel extremely long distances to gain schooling that will provide options for employment or higher education available beyond the reservation or local town.

ARIZONA has been fairly quiet on the Western educational front, but its state schools, such as Arizona State University, grow ever more competitive, thanks mainly to the population explosion in Phoenix and environs. And University of Phoenix continues to be the fastest growing “college” in America.

ARKANSAS is home to Hendrix College, emblematic of a large and growing number of relatively small schools that can provide a great education to a young person who wants to learn in a somewhat laid-back setting with classrooms where everybody knows your name.

CALIFORNIA is a place unlike any other, a veritable “nation state” with one of the world’s largest economies and probably the world’s finest dual system of public higher education – the “UC” schools, and the “Cal State” schools. While both systems are under severe financial stress, securing a place at one of these schools’ honors colleges is often more difficult than securing a spot at one of the most selective colleges in the East.

COLORADO has, for better or for worse, received more attention for its Ward Churchill controversy than for the broader higher educational opportunities offered through its great collection of public and private colleges and universities.

CONNECTICUT’s most well-known public university, UCONN in Storrs, is only one of several state schools that provide a strong education to students from diverse backgrounds, of varying ages and who are pursuing career paths with mostly a very practical – and admirable – intent.

DELAWARE’s flagship state school, the University of Delaware in Newark, not only has one of the most entertaining sports team names – “Fighting Blue Hens” – but is also one of the best examples of the so-called “Public Ivies.” These are large, state-funded institutions that have somehow been able to break through in terms of their reputation for providing wonderful undergraduate educations.

FLORIDA in education, as in so many fields, is sort of a laboratory for the future, as its ever-growing, ever-changing population wrestles with the importance of early childhood education as a precursor to success in school, and as its aging men and women are asked increasingly to help pick up the tab for America’s school bills.

GEORGIA’s Hope Scholarship, which transfers funds from the state’s lottery to help pay college tuitions at in-state schools for those who meet basic entry requirements, has become the lightning rod for discussion of the wisdom of such programs. Most think that Hope is beyond reproach, but others feel it is contributing to a misallocation of finite financial aid resources, from those in need to those who attain certain pre-college educational goals.

HAWAII has caught my attention due to the number of long-standing programs that it has for placing students in mainland U.S. colleges of all stripes, thereby promoting effective cultural exchange that works in both directions.

IDAHO’s Boise State is creating some buzz for reasons beyond the unusual blue color of its football field. This school is increasingly drawing out-of-state residents who are lured by Idaho’s quality of life, and its varied offerings appeal to those who may not necessarily have their minds made up on a career at the time they enter school.

ILLINOIS is home to my alma mater, Northwestern University, which is still the ideal size and location for an undergraduate institution – large enough to offer several high-quality fields of study and relatively quiet on the main campus, but close to the vibrancy of Chicago right next door.

INDIANA is the place where one of the best research institutions in the country – IU in Bloomington – works on the cutting edge in fields too numerous to mention. OK, one that must be noted is higher education itself – warts and all – which is studied by a team of researchers who follow admissions and student trends very closely.

IOWA was the first state to contact us through official channels, asking to partner on the creation of a “College Parents of Iowa,” with a particular focus on the higher educational challenges in that locale. Iowa is also the headquarters of ACT, the well-run service that draws nearly as many test-takers as the College Board’s SAT.

KANSAS, to be honest, has not jumped on my radar screen in any significant way, but I do have a soft spot for the state, as my wife used to work for former Senator (and presidential candidate) Robert Dole. Let’s salute Mr. Dole and all other surviving WW II veterans, as their numbers dwindle every single day.

KENTUCKY’s flagship university, UK in Lexington, is starting to be given a run for its educational – and athletic – money by the University of Louisville, a formerly commuter-dominant school that is working seriously on creating a cohesive campus culture. Those UL Redbirds are really starting to peck away at the Wildcats.

LOUISIANA, like many states, is addressing a serious “brain drain” issue by attempting to strengthen dramatically the quality of its public colleges and universities, and by encouraging more of those who study at its various private schools to stay in Cajun Country when they graduate. Louisiana’s brain drain was, of course, exacerbated by the effects of Katrina, and it could be similarly impacted by the Gulf oil spill.

MAINE benefits from a congressional delegation, led by senior Senator Olympia Snowe, who pay close attention to the interests of the state, but who also take the long view when it comes to the interests of the nation, particularly in the area of education policy.

MARYLAND students and their families have benefited from some very smart judgments on the part of Britt Kirwin, who runs the University of Maryland system, which includes the flagship in College Park. Kirwin has evangelized for years that, in order for colleges and universities to have credibility when raising tuition, they must take a hard line on the expense side of the equation, and try to hold down their costs as much as possible.

MASSACHUSETTS is a trendsetter when it comes to education policy, particularly as it relates to higher education. The high number of colleges in the Boston area, as well as the higher-than-average levels of education attainment among Massachusetts’s residents, makes the Bay State a natural laboratory for education policy debates.

MICHIGAN, my home state, is feeling the effects of what cynics call a “one-state” recession, as its automobile-based manufacturing economy continues to suffer. This puts a squeeze on education-related state spending, both for K-12 and for higher Ed, an issue that extends far beyond this one state.

MINNESOTA is the home base of Scholarship America, emblematic of an extremely large group of non-profit entities dedicated to providing scholarship opportunities to young people entering or in the midst of college. Nearby, this state’s flagship university, UofM, is one of the recognized leaders among public schools in terms of providing support for parents, thanks to the efforts of parent relations director Marjorie Savage.

MISSISSIPPI, like the vast majority of states, was not been tarred with the student loan scandal because the financial aid officials at schools in that state are much the same as their colleagues who work elsewhere – dedicated professionals with the best interest of the students they serve at heart.

Last but not least, concluding the first part of this American education tour is MISSOURI, where an increasing emphasis on career planning out of high school is leading students to better focus on the practicality of post-secondary studies that they may pursue.

As noted, the other 25 states, and Washington, DC, will be covered in a column later this month. I had fun writing up these state-specific items and I hope that you found them of interest.

Best wishes for an enjoyable Fourth of July holiday weekend.

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