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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


The University of Central Oklahoma's (UCO) history began in Edmond, Oklahoma Territory (O.T.), in 1891. Offering its first classes in November of that year, the Territorial Normal School of Oklahoma was the first public institution of higher education in O.T. Although three institutions, the Territorial Normal School, the University of Oklahoma at Norman, and the Agricultural and Mechanical (A&M) College (now Oklahoma State University) at Stillwater, can link their origins to the First Territorial Legislature and its selection of sites for higher education in the territory in 1890, the Normal School was the first to conduct classes. The A&M College commenced on December 14, 1891, and the University of Oklahoma opened in fall 1892. Significantly, the Normal School (teachers' college) opened first. Further, the first building constructed for the purpose of higher education in O.T. was the Normal Building, also called Old North Tower (listed in the National Register of Historic Places, NR 71000671), located on the Edmond campus. Classes were held in Old North beginning in January 1893. Other Oklahoma institutions with normal school origins include East Central University, Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Southwestern Oklahoma State University, Northeastern State University, and Northwestern Oklahoma State University, all of which opened between 1897 and 1909.

The University of Central Oklahoma progressed from simple beginnings as a normal school with Principal Richard Thatcher (1891–93) instructing twenty-five students. In the spring 1897 the first graduating class included two men and three women. At the turn of the twenty-first century approximately four hundred full-time faculty taught more than fifteen thousand students. The institution has experienced several name changes, most recently the transition from Central State University to the University of Central Oklahoma in 1991. In 1919 the Territorial Normal School became Central State Teachers College and began granting bachelor's degrees. In 1939 its name changed to Central State College. In addition, nineteen presidents have guided UCO's primary mission as a teaching institution.

Teacher training has remained at the heart of the mission. From the outset, professors adopted the normal school standards and pedagogy used throughout the United States. At the turn of the twentieth century families would relocate near the campus so that their children could receive a quality education. By the turn of the twenty-first century UCO's curriculum had gone beyond the original preparatory and normal school courses to include a variety of majors and graduate degrees.

Politics was inextricably linked to the development of higher education in Oklahoma. During its crucial early years, at a time when stable, consistent leadership would have been ideal, the school had six presidents in seventeen years. The troubling practice of dismissing college presidents and occasionally faculty with a change in governor continued during the early twentieth century. Politics persisted until the 1950s when Pres. W. Max Chambers halted mandatory political campaign solicitations from the faculty.

During the 1960s Central State College evolved from a teacher's college to a thriving, diversified commuter college. The "baby boomer" generation, born in the post–World War II era, flocked to the campus in record numbers. Pres. Garland A. Godfrey (1960–75) launched an ambitious building program to keep pace with projected enrollment. Joe C. Jackson (1951–76), debate coach, dean of students, and then vice president for academic affairs, worked in partnership with Godfrey during this time of transition. Presidents Bill Lillard (1975–92), George Nigh (1992–97), and Roger Webb (1997– ) continued to increase UCO's visibility throughout the state and nation and placed students' learning and achievement first.

When Nigh retired in 1997, UCO officials dedicated the $15 million expansion to the University Center, the largest project of the $55 million campus rebuilding plan. Enrollment stood at 15,953 in 2005. International students numbering 1,372 represented ninety-two countries. UCO offered ten bachelor's degrees and six master's degrees. A student could gain a master's degree in arts, business administration, education, fine arts, music, or science.

Patricia Loughlin


"Education, Higher—Oklahoma—Edmond," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.

Bill E. Fisher, History of the Graduate Program (Edmond, Okla.: Central State University, 1990).

David M. Hart, A Centennial History of Science and Mathematics at Central State University (Edmond, Okla.: Central State University, 1990).

Stan Hoig and Reba Collins, In the Shadow of Old North Tower (Edmond, Okla.: Central State University, 1972).

Edna Jones, comp. and ed., Sixty Years at Central: Facts and Figures of Service and Friendship Through the Years, 1891–1951 (Edmond, Okla.: N.p., 1951).

Jesse Dale Mullins and Lucille W. Patton, A Centennial History of the Education Program (Edmond, Okla.: Central State University, 1990).

Harvey N. Nye, A History of the College of Business Administration, 1891–1990 (Edmond, Okla.: Central State University, 1990).

Francis Coram Oakes, A Story of Central State College of Edmond, Oklahoma (Edmond, Okla.: N.p., 1953).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Patricia Loughlin, “University of Central Oklahoma,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=UN009.

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