Oldest public university in the United States
The title of oldest public university in the United States is claimed by three universities: the University of Georgia, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and The College of William & Mary. Each has a distinct basis for the claim, with Georgia being the first to receive a charter to function as public university, North Carolina being the first to open to the public, and William & Mary having the oldest founding date of any currently public university.
University of Georgia
Located in Athens, Georgia, the University of Georgia received its charter from the state in 1785, making the University of Georgia the first state-chartered public university in the United States. As a result of this distinction UGA brands itself as the "birthplace of the American system of higher education." A site was selected for the university, and it began admitting students, in 1801.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The state of North Carolina chartered the University of North Carolina in 1789, and construction on the campus began in 1793. The university was the first public university in the country to admit students when it opened in 1795. Graduating its first class in 1798, UNC was the only public institution to confer degrees in the 18th century.
The College of William & Mary
Now a public university, The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia was founded by royal charter in 1693, making it the second oldest college or university in the United States, after Harvard University. The college severed formal ties with Britain after the colonies declared independence, but remained private until financial troubles forced its closure after the Civil War. It re-opened in 1888, but continued financial troubles forced it to accept funding from the Commonwealth of Virginia beginning in 1906. It has been public ever since.