78 SCHOOLS in VIRGINIA
Virginia has had an uncommonly large influence on the United States since the first British settlement in the Americas, Jamestown, named for King James I. The colony itself was named for Elizabeth I – the Virgin Queen – and initially had very little purpose but to feed Europe’s insatiable demand for the newest fad: tobacco. With tobacco cultivation and trade centered in Virginia, the colony quickly became the wealthiest and most powerful in North America, with the plantations of eastern Virginia driving the international slave trade as well. It was also Virginia that drove the American Revolution, as the same wealthy planters – including Founding Fathers like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson – became increasingly frustrated with British rule, taxation, and debt caused by a drop in tobacco prices and a worldwide recession. It was during this period that Virginia gained its nickname “Mother of Presidents,” as four of the first five Presidents, and several more thereafter, were born in the state. The Commonwealth of Virginia continued its domination through the Civil War, when Richmond was the capital of the Confederate States, and though the state suffered economically from the aftermath of the war, it retained its political and social influence, particularly the northern section that encompasses the Washington, DC, metropolitan region.
The Washington-Arlington-Alexandria region – which includes numerous Virginia counties – is the modern hub of economic and political activity in Virginia, as Washington, DC’s suburbs and exurbs have spread across multiple counties in Northern Virginia. While Virginia’s early wealth and influence was built on tobacco, the commonwealth’s contemporary privilege is political, rooted in government, government contracting, lobbying, business, and services. Alongside that political economy, Virginia has grown a tech economy second only to California, also directly tied to the massive communications needs of the capital of the world’s last remaining superpower. With direct access to The District, Virginia has become one of the nation’s most business-friendly states, both for small business, and Fortune 500 companies (Virginia is the homebase for more than 20).
With its incredible influence, wealth, and power, it should come as no surprise that Virginia is also one of the best-educated states in the US. Not only is Virginia one of the nation’s top 10 states for K-12 education, but the commonwealth is home to more than 170 colleges and universities, with a disproportionate number of elite, prestigious, and top-ranked institutions. Two of the original Public Ivies (public universities as renowned as the Ivy League) are located in Virginia – the College of William & Mary, and the University of Virginia, both of which are pioneering institutions; William & Mary is one of the Colonial Colleges founded before the United States, while UVA was founded by Thomas Jefferson as a trailblazing public research university. Virginia also has two of the nation’s six senior military colleges: Virginia Tech, one of the most prestigious STEM institutions in the world, and the Virginia Military Institute, the model of the form. Virginia has more world-class public and private universities and liberal arts colleges than nearly any other state, ensuring Virginia’s place at the head of American life for generations to come.