140 SCHOOLS in FLORIDA
Florida has seen a lot of starts and stops in its history, as Europeans and Americans tried again and again to make something of that stubborn peninsula. Named “La Florida” by Ponce de Leon – “The Land of Flowers” in Spanish – no one quite knew what to do with Florida for its first three centuries. The oldest city in the United States, St. Augustine, was founded in 1565, but the land was difficult to settle and explore. (There was also never a Fountain of Youth, and Ponce de Leon never searched for one – that myth was one of the first bits of shrewd marketing in a state that would one day be built on incredible stories.) It was not until Spain turned Florida over to Great Britain in exchange for Havana, Cuba, that Florida began to develop, but when Florida refused to take part in the American Revolution or join the US, it reverted back to Spain, only to return to the US when Spain (tapped out by the Napoleonic Wars) could no longer afford to keep it. Florida would remain sparsely populated, with just some cotton and sugar plantations, until well into the 20th century, with the swamps, malaria mosquitos, and heat keeping all but the toughest settlers away.
It wasn’t agriculture or natural resources that made Florida what it is today, though – it was good old-fashioned tourism. Much of this growth was owed to railroad and oil baron Henry Morrison Flagler, whose enthusiasm for Florida led him to build the Florida East Coast Railway all the way down to Miami, building a string of hotels along the way which would establish Florida as a tourist haven. When the Roaring 20s ran out of room for resorts and amusement parks, Florida was ripe for development, and an intensive period of growth looked extremely promising, until the one-two punch of the Great Depression and a series of devastating hurricanes slowed things down. After WWII, the invention of air conditioning renewed interest – and livability – in Florida, and the state hasn’t looked back since, establishing an economy dominated by beaches, amusement parks, and retirement communities, and all of the attendant industries; only California beats Florida for the sheer number of visitors each year, and California is nearly three times Florida’s size.
Reflecting Florida’s unique character, the higher education system of the state is recognized for achievements in business, medicine, and scientific research. Major public research universities include the University of Florida, Florida State University, and Florida International University, while Florida is also home to world-class private research institutions including the University of Miami and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. With its tourism and real estate-based economy, Florida has some of the finest business and law schools in the nation, while a large population of elderly retirees has made medicine and nursing major educational endeavours. Florida is also one of the most important states for environmental research, especially for ocean and tropical studies. A number of top-ranked liberal arts colleges Rollins College, the New College of Florida, and Flagler College, help keep each generation of Florida’s leaders and scholars in the state and dedicated to keeping the Florida boom going for good this time.