10 Fun Facts About Higher Ed

ScholarNet Blog Articles | April 28, 2023

From the oldest college sporting event to deceptive statues, we’re sharing some of our favorite fun facts about higher education.

The oldest active college sporting event.

First held in 1852, the Harvard-Yale Regatta race became an annual event in 1864, more than a decade before the first Harvard-Yale football game. The regatta has been held on the Thames River in New London, Connecticut since 1878. The only breaks in the event have taken place during world wars.

Graduation etymology.

Today, you think of your alma mater as the college you attended, but do you know where the phrase “alma mater” originates from? Latin in origin, the term translates as “nurturing mother.” That isn’t all that surprising when you consider that the students who graduate from an institution are called alumni. That’s derived from the singular version of the Latin word “alumnus,” which means “foster son.”

Most common American mascot.

Out of 1,875 American college athletic departments, eagles are one of the most commonly used mascots across the country (including the golden, bald, and screaming varieties). Other mascots you’re likely to encounter on campuses include hawks, lions (and other big cats), and bulldogs.

The first art department associated with an institution.

Yale, with the introduction of its School of the Fine Arts in 1869, claims to be the first art school connected to an institution of higher learning. The school initially offered drawing, painting, sculpture, and art history – eventually adding architecture in 1908.

More women (and all-female colleges).

Today, nearly 60% of college students are women. While there are 60 all-female colleges in the U.S. today, there are only four that accept solely males.

Trading out colonial names.

One of the first colonial colleges, Queen’s College was founded in 1766, before the American Revolution. Decades later, it was renamed Rutgers College (and eventually Rutgers University) in honor of Colonel Henry Rutgers. He is, ironically, a graduate of King’s College, which is now known as Columbia University. These were just two of nine colleges originally funded by the colony or England that are still operating. The others are Harvard University, the College of William and Mary, Yale University, Princeton University, Brown University, Dartmouth College, and the University of Pen

Landmark moments for women in higher ed.

On July 16, 1840, Catherine Brewer became the first women to earn a bachelor’s degree, graduating from the institution now known as Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia.

Lucy Stanton is recognized as the first African American woman to graduate from college, though the institution she graduated from in 1850 (Oberlin College) didn’t actually award graduates with bachelor’s degrees at the time. A little over a decade later, Mary Jane Patterson (also an Oberlin grad) became the first African American woman to officially be awarded a bachelor’s degree in 1862.

A statue that’s not what it seems.

The statue of John Harvard on Harvard University’s campus isn’t of the institution’s founder for two reasons. First, while John Harvard was a major benefactor, the university was founded by a vote by the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Second, the statue doesn’t resemble John Harvard – since Harvard student Sherman Hoar sat as a model for the sculptor instead. Why? There are no living representations of the university’s namesake. (By the way, Hoar went on to serve as a member of Congress and a U.S. district attorney.)

Record-breaking sports stadiums.

Of the largest 25 sports stadiums in the world (in terms of seating capacity), 14 are primarily used for U.S. college football. The largest sports stadium in the U.S., appropriately nicknamed “The Big House”, is Michigan Stadium, which boasts a capacity of 107,601. In 2013, the University of Michigan broke their attendance record (and set an NCAA record for highest-attended game) in a matchup with Notre Dame with a stadium population of 115,109.

The origin of need-based aid analysis.

In 1953, John Monro (at the time, Harvard’s financial aid director) helped establish a financial aid system that used financial data to determine which students most needed aid. This system set the foundation for need-based aid analysis that is still used around the country – but he didn’t stop there. After over 20 years at Harvard (nine of which he spent as the dean), he left to become director of freshman studies at Miles College, and later an English and writing professor at Tougaloo College in Mississippi – both small, predominantly black institutions.

Higher education and financial aid have changed a lot over the years, and are likely to continue evolving greatly in the future. You can count on the ScholarNet team to help you, your students, and their families navigate the changes.

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