Higher Education

By: V. R. Cardozier

Type: General Entry

Published: February 1, 1995

Updated: September 16, 2020

Like the early colleges founded in the American colonies, the first institutions of higher learning established in Texas were the result of efforts by churches or religious organizations. Between Texas independence and statehood, the Republic of Texas granted charters to eight universities, seven colleges, ten academies and four institutes. Between then and the outbreak of the Civil War, the Texas legislature granted charters to another 117 institutions of higher learning; in addition, several institutions were started without charters. However, many of those to which charters were granted never became reality, and several of those that did open their doors were institutions of higher learning in name only. The academies and institutes were preparatory institutions, and those institutions that offered college-level study also operated preparatory departments. Few institutions initially offered genuine college-level work.

Baylor University is acknowledged to be the oldest continually operating institution of higher education in Texas, having been founded in 1845. Southwestern University in Georgetown, which opened in 1873, was founded by the Methodist Church and derived its heritage from four earlier colleges: Rutersville University, the first college chartered in Texas, 1840; Wesleyan College, 1844; McKenzie College, 1860; and Soule University, 1856, all of which closed before Southwestern was founded. The Methodists, the most prolific group in founding colleges, inaugurated twenty-one by the end of the nineteenth century. The Baptists were next with ten, followed by the Presbyterians with eight, the Catholics with four, the Christian Church with three, the Episcopalians and Lutherans with two each, and the Congregationalists with one. At least four did not declare their affiliation, and thirty-four colleges founded before 1900 were not affiliated with any denomination, including some that were supported through sale of stock.

The Civil War wreaked havoc on the newly created colleges in Texas, since many of the teachers and headmasters as well as students left to join the army. In 1860 twenty-five colleges in Texas enrolled 2,416 students, but in 1870 there were only thirteen colleges, and enrollments totaled about 800. In the 1870s the founding of colleges, including several for Blacks, resumed in Texas. But as in antebellum Texas, many of the new institutions did not survive. Of ninety-three private colleges established between 1837 and 1900, only twenty were still in existence in 1992, and these had undergone several mergers, name changes, changes of location, and revisions of mission. Three of the twenty were two-year colleges.

When Texas reentered the Union in 1870, the state became eligible for a grant of federal land as a result of the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862. Since there was no federal land in Texas, the grant came in the form of scrip, that is, the right to public land in another state where the federal government owned land. The Texas share, 130,000 acres, was sold for eighty-seven cents an acre in 1871; the proceeds constituted the first endowment of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M University). The college opened in 1876, as did Alta Vista Agricultural College (now Prairie View A&M University), a school "for the benefit of colored youth." The University of Texas was founded in 1881 and opened in 1883. By vote of the citizenry it was located in Austin, the medical branch in Galveston.

As in all of the southern states, the period from 1865 until World War II was marked by poverty in Texas. To be sure, the discovery of oil early in the century had provided wealth not found in most southern states, but in 1940 Texas was still primarily rural and poor. Yet, the Texas legislature made vast strides in establishing institutions of higher learning during this period.

Normal Schools and Teachers Colleges. The legislature enacted a statute in 1870 requiring children from six to eighteen years old to attend school. The law was generally ignored, for a combination of reasons-resentment of the Republican-controlled legislature; resistance to power centered in the state superintendent; and the requirement, unrealistic for the time, of attendance to age eighteen. When Reconstruction ended and Democrats returned to the statehouse in 1874, efforts were renewed for the establishment of a system of free public education and normal schools more to the Democrats' liking.

With the help of a matching grant from the Peabody Education Board, Sam Houston Normal Institute (now Sam Houston State University) was established in Huntsville in 1879. This was followed by the establishment of six other normal schools: North Texas Normal School and Teachers Training Institute (private) in Denton, which became a state institution in 1901 (now the University of North Texas); Southwest Texas State Normal School in San Marcos, 1899 (now Texas State University); West Texas State Normal School in Canyon, 1909 (now West Texas A&M University); East Texas Normal College (private) in Cooper, 1889, which was moved to Commerce in 1894, then was taken over by the state in 1917 and became East Texas State Normal College (now East Texas State University). Sul Ross State Normal School in Alpine (now Sul Ross State University) was authorized by the legislature in 1917 and opened in 1920. Stephen F. Austin State Teachers College (now Stephen F. Austin State University) was initially authorized in 1917 but did not receive funds for construction of buildings until 1921; it opened in 1922 and was never called a normal school. Texas A&M University at Kingsville was originally authorized in 1917 as South Texas Normal School, but before it opened in 1925 it was renamed South Texas State Teachers College and, in 1929, Texas College of Arts and Industries. In 1923 all of the normal schools were renamed state teachers colleges, a change consistent with the rest of the country. All had earlier been authorized to offer bachelor's degrees.

Eight of the present state universities had previously been junior colleges, although some of them had begun as private two-year or four-year institutions before being taken over by the state or local government: Angelo State University in San Angelo, Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Lamar University in Beaumont, the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg, the University of Texas at Arlington, Tarleton State University, and the main and downtown campuses of the University of Houston. The forerunner of Texas Woman's University was founded in 1901 by the legislature to offer the last two years of high school work plus the first two years of college.

The Great Depression. The Great Depression of the 1930s devastated American society and seriously retarded progress at most institutions of higher learning. During the depression almost all of the colleges in Texas found it necessary to reduce faculty salaries at least once, some twice. SMU asked faculty to return 2 percent of their salaries, and half did so; another one-third gave 1 percent. But the university cut salaries 20 percent in 1932–33 and 50 percent in the spring of 1933. Even so, SMU fared better than many rural colleges that served primarily farm students. Faculty were frequently paid in scrip that could be exchanged at a grocery store for a discount. In its search for ways to save money, the legislature considered a bill in 1932 to close teachers colleges at Alpine, Kingsville, Canyon, San Marcos, and Nacogdoches, and to merge what is now Texas Woman's University and the University of North Texas.

All private colleges suffered the effects of the depression, but particularly those that relied largely on tuition and fees for support. Howard Payne at Brownwood, Tillotson in Austin (now Huston-Tillotson College), Wiley in Marshall, and others sought alternatives for paying their bills. Many students could not afford tuition and were allowed to contribute payment in kind-canned goods, hams, sausage, vegetables, and other farm produce. Thus children of poor farmers, who lacked cash but could come up with produce, could attend college.

Colleges and universities in Texas benefited immensely from New Deal programs. Between its initiation in 1935 and its end in 1943, the National Youth Administration made it possible for thousands of young people in Texas to attend college. The first head of the program in Texas was Lyndon B. Johnson, who aggressively promoted the NYA. Through the program, which was similar to later federally funded work-study programs, needy students could earn up to fifteen dollars a month at twenty-five to thirty cents an hour, enough to support a student in a state college. Through the Work Projects Administration, buildings and other facilities, including the airport at Texas A&M, were constructed at colleges.

Colleges in Wartime. During the two world wars, especially World War II, many Texas colleges and universities were involved in training military personnel. In World War I the University of Texas provided ground training for army air service personnel, and most public and private institutions participated in the Students Army Training Corps, which began on October 1, 1918; since the war ended six weeks later, it was a short-lived program. World War II was different. Many Texas colleges became virtual military bases, where large numbers of military personnel were trained. The largest programs were the college training programs of the army, navy, and army air corps, the curricula of which were essentially civilian in character. These projects prepared men for officer training and other military training to be taken subsequently at military installations. Of nineteen Texas institutions involved in these programs, six were private. Ten institutions had army specialized-training programs, the largest of which were at Texas A&M and Texas Tech; five had army air corps programs, in which Texas A&M and Texas Tech were major participants; six had navy (V-12) training programs.

One of the first federally sponsored military training programs (although it was not initially military) was started in 1939 at thirteen colleges and universities to train pilots; one of these was in Texas-North Texas Agricultural Junior College, now the University of Texas at Arlington. In 1940, the Civilian Pilot Training Program was expanded to hundreds of colleges and universities, including almost all of those in Texas. With federal funds, the colleges conducted ground school and supervised a nearby flying service that provided flight training. The program was taken over by the army and navy in December 1942.

In addition, dozens of programs were conducted on college campuses to train service personnel in military or technical subjects. Texas A&M and the University of Houston had the largest variety of programs and the largest number of trainees. A&M trained radio technicians, radio operators, and specialists in electricity and radio materials and several other specialties for the navy. The University of Houston trained radio operators and machinists, welders, electrical engineers, and specialists in internal combustion engines for the Navy. Members of the Women's Army Corps trained at Stephen F. Austin, Texas Woman's University, and Sul Ross.

Although the navy college program lasted beyond the end of the war, the air corps program ended in the summer of 1944 and the army specialized training program virtually ended in March 1944, leaving several Texas colleges with only a fraction of their prewar student body. The decline brought financial problems for state-supported colleges, but private colleges without endowments had to struggle to stay open until the veterans enrolled after the war.

Postwar Expansion. Like other states, Texas experienced massive growth in enrollment in higher education following World War II. The legislature took several steps to provide spaces for returning military personnel. In 1949 all of the state teachers colleges were renamed state colleges, if this change had not already occurred, and authorized to broaden their curricula beyond teacher preparation. Indeed, this was essentially pro forma recognition of what had already happened in those institutions, for the deluge of veterans arriving on those campuses after World War II forced institutions to change rapidly.

After the veterans graduated, enrollment did not grow much throughout the 1950s. In fact, it fell dramatically on several campuses, as the enrollment in 1946–47 and 1952–53 on selected campuses illustrates: University of Texas (Austin), 17,242 and 12,862; Texas A&M (College Station), 8,643 and 6,287; Southern Methodist University, 6,780 and 4,697; and Southwestern University, 808 and 424. However, enrollment in most independent colleges and teachers colleges changed little or grew slightly.

But when the postwar "baby boom" reached the campuses in the 1960s, enrollment rebounded rapidly. The legislature was pressed to accommodate the growth, which led to the state's taking over several two-year colleges and private institutions. What is now Midwestern State University became state supported in 1961, Angelo State University and the University of Houston in 1963, the University of Texas-Pan American at Edinburg in 1965. Texas Southern University, established by the legislature to serve Blacks in 1947, took over facilities of the city-operated Houston College for Negroes. Within a few years the legislature began to change the titles of state colleges to "university," and by the 1980s all state colleges had been renamed. Meanwhile, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board had authorized the addition of hundreds of master's degree programs at those institutions.

The leading public doctorate-granting institutions include the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University at College Station, as well as Texas Tech University, the University of Houston, the University of North Texas, the University of Texas at Dallas, the University of Texas at Arlington, Texas Woman's University, East Texas State University, and Texas State University-San Marcos. Private institutions with doctoral programs include Rice, Baylor, Southern Methodist, and Texas Christian universities. In addition, all of the public and private health science centers offer doctoral study in the basic sciences. Several other universities offer one or two doctoral programs: Stephen F. Austin State University (forestry), Sam Houston State University (criminal justice), Texas A&M University at Kingsville (bilingual education and educational leadership), University of Texas at El Paso (geology, psychology, and engineering), Lamar University (engineering), Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi (educational leadership), the University of Texas at San Antonio (biology), Texas Southern University (education), and the University of Texas-Pan American (international business).

Organization and Governance. All public colleges and universities in Texas are governed by a board of regents, each composed of nine members, three of whom are appointed every two years by the governor for terms of six years each, subject to confirmation by the Texas Senate. Before 1955 each state college and university dealt independently with the legislature and relied largely upon the support of legislators from the area of the college and the skill of the institution's president in securing funding. In 1955 the legislature established the Texas Commission on Higher Education, which was intended to coordinate financing and development of institutions of higher education, including construction of facilities and addition of degree programs. The legislation did not, however, provide regulatory authority and therefore was virtually ignored by the legislature and the institutions. When John Connally became governor in 1965, he recommended the establishment of a coordinating board with regulatory powers, which the legislature approved. This body, initially known as the Coordinating Board, Texas College and University System, was renamed Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in 1987. Though the board and its staff often serve as advocates for higher education, the agency's legal function is largely regulatory.

When the Coordinating Board was established in 1965, one of its first acts was to appoint a committee of board members to study the need for additional colleges and universities. Two years later it issued a report calling for the establishment of new senior colleges in San Antonio, Dallas, Corpus Christi, Midland-Odessa, and the Houston suburbs. All except the San Antonio campus were to be upper-level institutions, that is, to enroll no freshmen or sophomores. The institutions at Dallas, San Antonio, and Midland-Odessa were designated by the legislature as components of the University of Texas System. The Clear Lake campus was made a part of the University of Houston System, and the Corpus Christi institution was assigned to Texas A&I, now part of the Texas A&M University System. Meantime, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, five institutions established upper-level centers on community college campuses, where they leased space and services from the host institutions; thus were established East Texas State University at Texarkana, the University of Houston at Victoria, Pan American University at Brownsville (now the University of Texas at Brownsville), Texas A&I University at Laredo (now Texas A&M International University), and the Uvalde Study Center, a component of Sul Ross State University.

The organization of university systems in Texas did not occur by a master plan, as in California and some other states, but rather according to legislative action on behalf of individual institutions. Five institutions are governed by their own individual boards, but in most cases one board governs more than one institution. Before entering the Texas A&M University System, Corpus Christi State University, Laredo State University, and Texas A&I University constituted the University System of South Texas. The Texas State University System consists of Angelo State University, Sul Ross State University, Sam Houston State University, and Texas State University-San Marcos. The University of Houston System consists of the main campus, the Clear Lake campus, the upper-level center on the campus of Victoria College, and the downtown Houston campus, formerly South Texas Junior College.

The largest system, the University of Texas System, consists of academic components at Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, El Paso, Tyler, Arlington, Odessa (Permian Basin), Edinburg (Pan American), and Brownsville; health science centers at Dallas, Galveston, Houston, and San Antonio, each of which includes a medical school, a school of allied health sciences, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, and, except Dallas, a nursing school. The centers at Houston and San Antonio also have dental schools. The cancer center in Houston and the health center (formerly East Texas Chest Hospital) at Tyler, both of which are research and treatment hospitals, and the University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio are part of the UT System.

For several years the Texas A&M System had consisted of the main campus at College Station, Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas A&M at Galveston (formerly the A&M College of Marine Science), and Prairie View A&M University, plus several service agencies-the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, the Agricultural Experiment Station System, the Texas Engineering Experiment Station, the Texas Engineering Extension Service, and the Texas Forestry Service. In 1989, the legislature assigned three additional institutions to A&M-Laredo State University, Corpus Christi State University, and Texas A&I University-as well as, in 1991, West Texas State University in Canyon. In 1993 the legislature renamed these institutions, respectively, Texas A&M International University, Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi, Texas A&M University at Kingsville, and West Texas A&M University. All of these components are governed by one board. On the other hand, the board of regents of Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, with an enrollment in 1992–93 of 5,774, is responsible for the governance of only that one institution.

The Lamar University System includes the main campus in Beaumont and two-year campuses at Port Arthur and Orange. Though it is a part of the Texas State University System, Texas Tech University is considered a system for funding purposes because it has a health sciences center; so is the University of North Texas in Denton, which has a College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Worth, a private institution prior to 1975. The legislature authorized the addition of freshman and sophomore years to the University of Texas at Dallas and Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi in 1989 and to the University of Texas of the Permian Basin in 1991. Several studies have been commissioned by the legislature and the Coordinating Board to examine the organization of Texas public higher education, but none of their recommendations for restructuring has been enacted by the legislature.

Enrollment. As in the country as a whole, enrollment in higher education has grown enormously in Texas. In 1992–93 total enrollment in all public and independent colleges recognized by the Coordinating Board, including four-year, two-year, and free-standing medical and dental schools, totaled 925,956. Enrollment in public academic degree-granting institutions totaled 410,532, plus another 13,239 in health science centers. Enrollment in independent degree-granting institutions totaled 89,114, plus 689 in junior colleges and 1,548 in the Baylor College of Medicine and College of Dentistry. These numbers do not include enrollments in seminaries, Bible colleges, and several other degree-granting institutions, most of which have not sought approval by the Coordinating Board, nor enrollment in proprietary institutions.

The magnitude of enrollment change can be demonstrated by comparing enrollments in two periods at individual institutions, 1935–36 and 1992–93: Stephen F. Austin State University, 851 and 12,721; University of Texas at El Paso, 673 and 17,209; Texas A&M University at Kingsville, 676 and 6,415; St. Mary's University, 499 and 4,007; Texas Christian University, 859 and 6,728. However, many independent colleges have intentionally remained small, since they consider limited enrollment important to their mission. The largest increase in postsecondary education in Texas has occurred in public two-year colleges, which in 1992–93 enrolled 402,719 (see COMMUNITY AND JUNIOR COLLEGES).

Finances. State funding for public academic institutions is based on formulas prepared by the Coordinating Board and based primarily on enrollments and semester credit hours. Medical schools and other programs in health science institutions are funded on different bases. In the mid-1950s, the legislature set tuition at state colleges and universities at four dollars a semester credit for Texas residents; for many years total tuition had been fifty dollars a semester, twenty-five dollars before World War II. Tuition remained at four dollars per credit until 1987, when the legislature increased it to twelve dollars, with a planned increase of two dollars a credit every year until 1997, when it will be capped at thirty-two dollars per credit. At the same time, institutions were authorized to increase tuition for students in graduate studies and in postgraduate professional schools, and several state universities, particularly those with programs for which there was high demand, added charges for them above the tuition charged undergraduates. As a result, tuition for graduate and professional students has risen sharply at several institutions. In the academic year 1992–93, tuition at the University of Texas at Austin for graduate study was thirty-six dollars per credit for Texas residents and $172 per credit for out-of-state students in most fields of study. The law school charged $120 per credit for in-state students and $240 for out-of-state students.

Institutions under the University of Texas System and the Texas A&M University System depend on income from the Permanent University Fund for capital construction and certain other capital expenditures. The main campuses of those two systems may also use income from the fund to supplement state appropriations for operating purposes. Other state universities receive money for construction from a special Higher Education Fund established by the legislature for that purpose. In the late 1970s, in response to the "Prop 13" movement in California and similar tax-cutting efforts elsewhere, the statewide ad valorem tax that had for several years financed construction at public colleges and universities not funded by the Permanent University Fund was abolished. Instead, the legislature agreed in 1985 to appropriate $100 million annually for construction and repair of campus facilities at those institutions.

Independent Higher Education. As of 1992 there were forty independent colleges in Texas recognized by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. This number did not include several Bible colleges, seminaries, business schools, and other vocational proprietary institutions, a chiropractic college, and the two unaccredited law schools. Nineteen of the forty were founded in the nineteenth century.

Several colleges founded by religious organizations have either severed their ties with their denomination or maintain only nominal relationships. Abilene is home for three independent institutions that maintain allegiance to their religious origins: McMurry University, Hardin-Simmons University, and Abilene Christian University. Seven institutions are still identified with the Catholic Church: St. Mary's University (1856), Incarnate Word College (1881), and Our Lady of the Lake University (1911), all in San Antonio; St. Edward's University (1881) in Austin; the University of St. Thomas (1946) in Houston; the University of Dallas (1956); and the College of St. Thomas More (1987), an independent Catholic college in Fort Worth, which offers only a classical curriculum and in 1993 enrolled fewer than 100 students (see CATHOLIC EDUCATION).

Increased enrollment and growing numbers of public institutions might suggest that private higher education is declining in Texas. In fact, however, it is increasing. Even though several colleges that were founded by private groups eventually became state institutions, additional independent colleges have been founded in the twentieth century. The enrollment in most private colleges has grown, although the most dramatic growth has been in the public sector. In 1992–93, enrollment in independent institutions accounted for about 10 percent of the total enrollment in postsecondary education in the state; when two-year colleges are excluded, independent institutions accounted for almost 18 percent of the enrollment in degree-granting institutions. Independent higher education continues to play an important role in Texas.

Texas students attending independent colleges and universities in Texas are eligible for loan programs instituted by the state legislature and the federal government on the same basis as students at public institutions. In addition, in 1965 the legislature approved the Tuition Equalization Grant Program, under which Texas students attending independent colleges and universities in Texas may qualify for grants based on financial need. The funds are appropriated by the legislature each biennium. In the 1990–91 fiscal year, 16,736 students attending independent institutions were awarded an average of $1,271 each, for a total of $21,271,456. In addition, the legislature appropriates annually a grant to the Baylor College of Medicine and the Baylor College of Dentistry to help defray the costs of educating medical and dental students who are expected to practice in Texas. In 1992–93, the grant to the College of Medicine was $31.8 million and that to the College of Dentistry $13.4 million.

V. R. Cardozier, Colleges and Universities in World War II (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 1993). William F. Eby, History of Education in Texas (New York: Macmillan, 1903). C. E. Evans, The Story of Texas Schools (Austin: Steck, 1955). Robert H. Kasper, The Founding of Colleges in Texas during the Nineteenth Century (MS, Department of Educational Administration, University of Texas at Austin, 1992). John F. and Shirley M. Ohles, Public Colleges and Universities (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986). June Rayfield Welch, The Colleges of Texas (Dallas: GLA Press, 1981).

  • Education
  • Public Four-Year Colleges and Universities

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

V. R. Cardozier, “Higher Education,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 25, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/higher-education.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1995
September 16, 2020