A state college is a college owned and operated by a department of a state government. This is a distinction of some importance in America, where the significant majority of colleges and universities are privately run (although they often do indirectly accept some monies from the government in the form of grants and tuition assistance).

State colleges were founded with the intention of making higher education more accessible to state citizens, and as such, offer to state residents tuition rates that are comparatively very inexpensive. On the other hand, as price doesn't matter if you can't get in, state colleges usually do not have very restrictive admissions requirements, so the quality of the student body may be a bit of a mixed bag.

To serve an entire state, a state college must be quite large, and must expand to match population growth. This creates very large campuses, where economies of scale may make possible services and classes that would not be feasible in smaller colleges, but where size may also create alienation and a decreased sense of individual identity. To address this issue, some states, if demographics and geographics allow, have multiple state college campuses. These campuses may act as "feeder" campuses, covering the first two years of education, and then passing on their students to the "main" campus (these are also sometimes called "satellite campuses"), or they may function as self-contained, 4-year colleges on their own. In any case, the newer and smaller campuses are usually less prestigious and easier to gain admission to. In addition, some states have multiple systems of state colleges. California, for example, has the University of California system, the less prestigious Cal State system, plus the United States' most comprehensive system of community colleges.

As state colleges cannot drastically raise tuitions for fear of contradicting their mission, and must rely on the notoriously fickle whims of state legislatures for their funding, they often have to deal with very tight budgets. This need for additional revenue, combined with the low tuition, large student population, and freely given athletic scholarships, also tends to create a heavy focus on sports. Sporting events are usually closely followed and well-attended, and students tend to be very proud of their teams, which are often among the top in the nation. Of course, it's not universally agreed that this is a good thing.

All in all, state colleges are regarded as somewhere around the middle of the pack in terms of academic reputation, although there is a bit of variation - the University of California, Berkeley is frequently considered one of the top fifteen schools in the nation. While they have some issues, and they're probably not best for top students, state colleges are, on balance, a reasonable and cost-efficient way of getting an education.

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