Howard Payne University is located near the business district of Brownwood. The school is a private, coeducational, four-year college affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. It was founded by the Pecan Valley Baptist Association at Indian Creek, Texas, on June 20, 1889. J. D. Robnett, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Brownwood, a leader in the movement, became president of the first board of trustees. During the summer of 1889 he sought to raise funds for the school and was able to secure a large gift from his brother-in-law, Edward Howard Payne. Ultimately the board of trustees decided to name the school Howard Payne College.
The first session opened on September 16, 1890, with A. J. Emerson as president and a faculty of twelve. A separate preparatory department furnished instruction below the freshman level. The school granted its first academic degree in 1895 and continued as a degree-conferring institution until 1900, then operated as one of the Baptist schools with junior college status from 1900 to 1914, when it again became a senior college. In 1974, upon approval of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Howard Payne College became Howard Payne University. HPU is a member of the Association of Texas Colleges and Universities, Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas, the Association of Southern Baptist Colleges and Schools, the Texas Association of Music Schools, the National Association of Schools of Music, the Texas Association of Schools of Art, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the American Association of University Women, the Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs, the Association of University Programs in Health Administration, the International Federation for Business Education, and the Texas Council of the Arts in Education.
In 1990 the university covered ten square blocks and included an athletic field of almost six acres. The campus of Daniel Baker College, a few blocks away, became part of Howard Payne in 1953. The main building of the former Daniel Baker College was remodeled for the Douglas MacArthur Academy of Freedom, a memorial to the late general. It houses a museum depicting the concept of freedom throughout history and facilities for study in social sciences. The university has more than twenty permanent buildings. The school joined the Lone Star Conference in 1956 for intercollegiate athletics, but in 1987 joined the Texas Intercollegiate Athletic Association. The latter became the Southwest Conference in 1996.
In the late 1980s the library contained 120,000 volumes, 18,000 government documents, 250 titles of microforms, 1,700 audiovisual items, and hundreds of current periodicals. HPU also offers educational programs in Corpus Christi, El Paso, Laredo, Harlingen, Midland, San Angelo, and Granbury/Benbrook. Besides its liberal arts program, the university offers preprofessional dentistry, medicine, and medical-technology programs, and is divided into six schools: science and math, business, Christian studies, education, music and fine arts, and humanities. Howard Payne University had 143 faculty members and 1,540 students in the fall of 1998. Rick R. Gregory was the president in 2001.