If you ask parents of Bismarck school children about what sets their city apart—if you read online forums or speak to a school administrator—you’ll get many variations of the same answer: Bismarck is a place where kids can just be kids. Even though Bismarck is the second largest city in the state with upward of 60,000 residents, parents will tell you that they feel they’re children are safe when walking to school. And they’ll tell you that there is a certain community investment in the success of the city’s youngest residents. It’s a sentiment that Superintendent of Bismarck Public Schools Dr. Paul Johnson echoes. “Ultimately, what draws many families [to Bismarck and its schools] is that feeling of safety and knowing that other people are looking out for your children besides you,” he says. Judging by the school district’s dropout rate, there’s something to that. Last year, the dropout rate at Bismarck Public Schools was only 2 percent, and plenty of people outside of the city limits have taken notice. While the state of North Dakota has been ranked No. 7 for children’s well-being in a Kids Count study, which measures categories related to education, family and health, Bismarck schools are standing out in the their own right. KaBOOM!, a national non-profit dedicated to bringing play back into children's lives, has designated Bismarck as one of the country’s 93 Playful Cities. But it’s certainly not all play and no work for students who attend Bismarck Public Schools. The district is the largest in the state, with 10,740 students enrolled for the 2009-2010 school year and 500 classrooms in 15 grade schools, three middle schools, two senior high schools, an alternative high school, a career and technical center and an early childhood program. Several of these schools have been designated Blue Ribbon Schools, and the district as a whole has been recognized year after year for meetings families’ needs in the national What Parents Want competition. In the district’s elementary schools, class sizes are small, averaging 20 students for each teacher. In the high schools, students can participate in many advanced placement courses and an array of activities ranging from sports to choir and jazz band. Enrollment in the district as a whole is increasing, and the district is operating on the largest budget its ever had, Johnson says. When it comes to private schools, the Bismarck-Mandan area also has plenty to offer: nine elementary schools, nine middle schools and two high schools, to be exact. Many of the students who graduate from Bismarck schools also go on to college. In fact, when it comes to choosing a college, Johnson says about one third of those who graduate from Bismarck public schools decide to stay close to home. Those who do so have plenty of options. As the fourth largest college in the North Dakota University System, Bismarck State College offers two-year associate degrees, more than 35 technical programs, 20 bachelor's degree and several graduate programs in cooperation with other North Dakota University System institutions. Enrollment at Bismarck State College, a community college, recently reached an all-time high of 4,020 students. It’s a feat that Drake Carter, provost and vice president for academic affairs, has attributed to frozen tuition rates and growing online course offerings, among other factors. The University of Mary, the only private, Catholic university in the state, has nine graduate degree programs and 44 degree programs in its undergraduate divisions. The university also offers a unique guarantee to incoming freshmen: If you don't graduate in four years, your fifth year is free. Total enrollment is about 2,800. For more than 40 years, United Tribes Technical College (UTTC) has served upward of 10,000 American Indian students from more than 75 federally recognized Indian Tribes across the nation. The college, which is a non-profit corporation chartered by the state of North Dakota, is the first tribal college in the nation authorized to offer full online degree programs. UTTC also offers 22 associate degrees and seven certificates. Bismarck’s hospitals are also home to a sundry of educational opportunities. Medcenter One College of Nursing offers an upper-division program where students can earn a bachelor of science nursing degree, which prepares them for professional nursing practice. St. Alexius Medical Center co-sponsors several allied health degree programs in specialties including respiratory therapy, radiologic technology, EMS and paramedic, clinical laboratory science and a pharmacy practice residency.