Texas Technological College was founded on February 10, 1923, when Governor Pat M. Neff signed Senate Bill 103 to establish a college in West Texas to "give instruction in technological, manufacturing, and agricultural pursuits" and "to elevate the ideals, enrich the lives, and increase the capacity of the people for democratic self-government." The college was governed by a nine-member board of directors appointed by the governor and was to have all the courses, programs, and degrees of a first-class college. The movement for a college in West Texas had begun before 1900, almost as soon as the first settlers reached the area. It finally resulted in the approval of a bill early in 1917 establishing the West Texas A&M College as a branch of Texas A&M, but the bill was repealed at the next legislative session after it was discovered that Governor James E. Ferguson had falsely reported Abilene as the locating committee's choice for the college. West Texans were thoroughly aroused and, led by the West Texas Chamber of Commerce, continued the fight. Finally, in 1923 a compromise bill authored by state senator William H. Bledsoe of Lubbock and state representative Lewis Carpenter of Dallas was approved. Lubbock was chosen as the site for the college after a locating board had visited the thirty-seven towns submitting briefs asking for the college. Some 2,008 acres of land just west of the city were purchased by the Lubbock steering committee and sold to the state. Texas Technological College opened on September 30, 1925, with 914 students and six buildings. Initially it had four schools: Agriculture, Engineering, Home Economics, and Liberal Arts. In 1933 they were designated divisions, and in 1944 the name reverted to schools. From the beginning the liberal arts school formed the largest unit in the college. Graduate education began in 1927 in the School of Liberal Arts. A Division of Graduate Studies opened in 1935 and became the Graduate School in 1954. A Division of Commerce was formed in 1942; by 1956 it had become the School of Business Administration. The School of Law and the School of Education opened in 1967. In 1968 the agriculture school became the School of Agricultural Sciences.
The college grew slowly and survived a move in the legislature in 1933 to reduce sharply its size and scope. By 1939–40 enrollment stood at 4,246, and although it dropped during World War II, the college trained 4,747 men in its training detachments for the armed services. By 1955 enrollment was 7,992, and by 1969, when the college was renamed Texas Tech University, it had reached 19,490. Intercollegiate sports began at Tech in 1925. On May 10, 1956, Texas Tech was admitted to the Southwest Conference. In 1935 the college became a regional deposit library for government documents. By 1969 the college library held some 1,200,000 volumes in support of large and growing undergraduate and graduate programs. The first Tech Ph.D. was granted in 1952. Military training began as early as 1925, and in 1936 formal A&M ROTC training began; Air Force ROTC was added in 1946. Presidents of Texas Technological College were Paul Whitfield Horn (1925–32), Bradford Knapp (1932–38), Clifford Bartlett Jones (1938–52), Edward Newlin Jones (1952–59), Robert Cabaniss Goodwin (1960–66), and Grover Elmer Murray (1966–76). In answer to student and faculty opinion, the legislature changed the name of Texas Technological College to Texas Tech University on September 1, 1969. Six schools became colleges (Law remained a school). The Texas Tech School of Medicine opened in 1972 on the campus but as a separate entity.
The university grew and developed steadily after 1969. By 1990 enrollment stood at just over 25,000. There were 926 faculty members in 1969 and 1,159 in 1990. The budget in 1969 totaled $39 million; by 1990 it had risen to $219 million. A Navy ROTC program was begun in 1983 but began to be phased out in 1991. The physical plant grew rapidly during the 1960s and 1970s, with a capital investment of more than $150 million. New buildings were built for the library, foreign languages, the social sciences, communications and philosophy, electrical and petroleum engineering, and art and architecture; major additions were made to the chemistry and English buildings and to the student center. A student recreation center, a television station, and several dormitories went up, as well as buildings for the schools of law and medicine. The university also maintained an agricultural research and educational farm of some 15,000 acres at Pantex, near Amarillo. A Lubbock County farm laboratory was added in 1974 and enhanced in 1985 by the addition of the Burnett Center for Beef Cattle Research and Instruction. The university's center at Junction, in the Hill Country, opened in 1971 on a 411-acre tract; it offers regular and short courses, workshops, and retreats throughout the year. The International Center for Arid and Semiarid Land Studies was established in 1966 to promote the university's special mission of interdisciplinary study of arid and semiarid environments. By the early 1990s a Plant Stress and Water Conservation Laboratory was under development. By the 1990s Texas Tech was a well-established state university with a broad range of undergraduate programs and over 100 programs each at the master's and doctoral levels. Its research and teaching programs in agriculture, engineering, and other disciplines have a major impact on the economy and life of West Texas.