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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

Bizzell Memorial Library, University of Oklahoma, 1961
(2012.201.B1321.0389, Oklahoma Publishing Company Photography Collection, OHS).


Public higher education in Oklahoma began shortly after the Land Run of 1889. Oklahoma Territory was established by the Organic Act passed by Congress on May 2, 1890. In December 1890 the First Oklahoma Territorial Legislature created three colleges: the University of Oklahoma (OU) at Norman, the Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College (Oklahoma A&M, now Oklahoma State University) at Stillwater, and Central State Normal School (now University of Central Oklahoma) at Edmond.

The Territorial Legislature subsequently added two additional normal (teacher training) schools and a college for African Americans. Northwestern State Normal (now Northwestern Oklahoma State University) at Alva opened in 1897 and Southwestern State Normal (now Southwestern Oklahoma State University) at Weatherford in 1901. The segregated comprehensive Colored Agricultural and Normal University (now Langston University) at Langston was established in 1897. A secondary institution, the University Preparatory School at Tonkawa, was created in 1901 to provide high school graduates for OU.

With the politics of statehood, the western imbalance in the location of colleges and universities affecting the Twin Territories called for a compromise. To satisfy the leadership of Indian Territory, Oklahoma Territory offered to duplicate in the eastern part of the new state the number and types of institutions that existed in the west side.

Accordingly, after statehood the First Oklahoma Legislature in 1908 initially established the Oklahoma Industrial Institute and College for Girls (now University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma) in Chickasha and the Oklahoma School for Mines and Metallurgy (now Eastern Oklahoma State College) at Wilburton. In 1909 three normal institutions opened, East Central State Normal (now East Central University) at Ada, Northeastern State Normal (now Northeastern State University) at Tahlequah, and Southeastern State Normal (now Southeastern Oklahoma State University) at Durant. In that same year a secondary Eastern University Preparatory School was located at Claremore.

Six district agricultural schools of secondary grade were also created in 1909. Their purpose was to prepare students for entrance to Oklahoma A&M or the normal colleges. In the eastern part of the state schools were established at Broken Arrow, Tishomingo, and Warner and in the western part of the state at Helena, Lawton, and Goodwell.

Thus, by 1910 the First Oklahoma Legislature had created twelve new institutions, six of collegiate grade and six of secondary grade. These twelve added to the seven established before statehood made a total of nineteen public schools and colleges in the young state. Six of the eight secondary schools evolved into colleges and universities (Murray State College, Connors State College, Northern Oklahoma College, Cameron University, Rogers State University, and Oklahoma Panhandle State University). The other two secondary-grade institutes, at Broken Arrow and Helena, closed in 1919. Also in 1919 a two-year college was added, Miami School of Mines (now Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College).

Although the total number of colleges and universities in 1920 was not excessive for a state of Oklahoma's size, the number in the public sector was greater because of the immediate need to establish an adequate statewide system. A combination of an above-average number of public institutions and a limited tax base has thus plagued Oklahoma almost since 1907 statehood.

It would be fifty years before another state institution was created by the Oklahoma Legislature. Pursuant to Senate Bill Number Two in 1967 that body created three new community colleges, Tulsa Junior College (now Tulsa Community College), Oscar Rose Junior College (now Rose State College), and Capitol Hill Junior College (defunct). In addition to receiving state funding, each became local vocational school districts for tax purposes. In the mid-1970s the municipally created junior colleges located at Altus (Western Oklahoma State College), El Reno (Redlands Community College), Poteau (Carl Albert State College), and Seminole (Seminole State College) were added to the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education. Oklahoma City Community College opened in 1972. Another municipal two-year college at Sayre became a branch of Southwestern Oklahoma State University in the 1980s.

In the late 1940s Oklahoma State University added a technical branch in Okmulgee and in the early 1960s added an Oklahoma City technical branch. In 1972 the Oklahoma College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery, created as a freestanding medical school in Tulsa, was absorbed by Oklahoma State University in 1988. These three entities joined the Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station, the Cooperative Extension Service, and the College of Veterinary Medicine as OSU budget agencies. The Board of Regents for the Oklahoma A&M Colleges governs OSU agencies as well as Oklahoma Panhandle State University, Connors State College, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College, and Langston University.

The University of Oklahoma (OU) added the Tulsa Medical College as a budget extension of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City in the mid-1970s. Prior to that date, separate OU constituent agencies included the College of Law and the Oklahoma Geological Survey. At the turn of the twenty-first century the OU Board of Regents governed these institutes as well as Rogers State University at Claremore and Cameron University at Lawton. In addition to the OU and OSU governance systems, ten two-year colleges and one special-purpose, baccalaureate-level university are governed by their own separate boards. Six regional, comprehensive universities (originally the normal schools) are governed by a single board.

Other additions to the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education include Higher Education Centers established at Ardmore in 1974, Idabel in 1982, and Enid in 1988. The University Center at Tulsa was established in 1982. The Tulsa center merged with Rogers State College at Claremore in 1996 to become Rogers University. In 1998 they were again separated and became a branch of Oklahoma State University at Tulsa and Rogers State University at Claremore.

Many public institutions offer courses at campuses or facilities located in other nearby cities. Connors State College operates a branch in Muskogee. Northeastern State University serves branches in Muskogee and Broken Arrow. Rogers State College has branches in Bartlesville and Pryor and Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College in Grove. Eastern Oklahoma State College coordinates programs from several schools in McAlester. Carl Albert State College serves a Sallisaw branch. Northwestern Oklahoma State College administers Woodward and Enid campuses. Northern Oklahoma College has a branch campus at Enid and delivers courses in Stillwater. Southwestern Oklahoma State College offers work in Sayre, Cameron University provides programs in Duncan, and Langston University furnishes courses in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

Six institutions offer work at the Ardmore and Idabel centers, five collaborate in a Downtown College Consortium in Oklahoma City, several operate in Ponca City, and a number of schools exchange a growing number of electronically delivered courses and programs. Many colleges also offer courses irregularly at other numerous sites in the state.

Constitutionally created in 1941, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education is the coordinating board of control for the state's public higher education system. During the year 2000–2001 the combined enrollment of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education institutions and facilities totaled 213,972 students. In 1999–2000 these institutions conferred 6,348 two-year associate degrees, 12,476 bachelor's degrees, 4,075 master's degrees, 611 first-professional degrees (pharmacy, optometry, doctor of osteopathy, veterinary medicine, and law) and 370 doctor's degrees.

Dan S. Hobbs and John H. Feaver


Frank A. Balyeat, "Junior Colleges in Oklahoma," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 26 (Spring 1948).

Seth K. Corden and William B. Richards, comps., The Oklahoma Red Book, Vol. 2 (Oklahoma City: N.p., 1912).

E. T. Dunlap, "The History of Legal Controls of Public Higher Education in Oklahoma" (Ph.D. diss., Oklahoma State University, 1956).

Dan S. Hobbs, "Coordination of Oklahoma's State System of Higher Education," in A History of Governance at Oklahoma State University, comp. James H. Boggs (Stillwater: Oklahoma State University, 1992).

Gaston Litton, "Higher Education," in History of Oklahoma at the Golden Anniversary of Statehood (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1957).

Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, A System of Higher Education for Oklahoma (Oklahoma City: State Regents, 1942).

Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, Biennial Report, 1942–2001, Vols. 1–33 (Oklahoma City: State Regents, 1943–2001).

Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, Oklahoma Higher Education Code (Oklahoma City: State Regents, 1965–2002).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Dan S. Hobbs and John H. Feaver, “Colleges and Universities, State,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=CO025.

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