The history of the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma (USAO) influences the current philosophy and purposes of the institution.

The first Oklahoma Legislature established the College in 1908 as the Industrial Institute and College for Girls. The first session at the College began in September, 1909, and the first degrees were conferred in 1915. The first building, which is now Troutt Hall, was completed in 1913.

A special act of the Legislature in 1916 officially changed the name to Oklahoma College for Women (OCW). OCW offered both college and high school programs until 1926 when the secondary division was discontinued. Through the years, Oklahoma College for Women (OCW) built an excellent reputation as a liberal arts college for women. Its graduates became leaders in many professions throughout the world.

On July 7, 1965, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education (OSRHE) changed OCW to a coeducational college. OSRHE named the college Oklahoma College of Liberal Arts (OCLA). Reflecting the new name, OSRHE also assigned OCLA a unique mission within Oklahoma’s system of higher education.

OSRHE promulgated new guidelines in Resolution 384, on July 7, 1965. Specifically, OSRHE directed the college to provide:

A. An outstanding liberal arts program with strong undergraduate offerings in the traditional arts and sciences, including mathematics, physical and biological sciences, and social sciences as well as the fine and performing arts;

B. An academic program particularly suited to the needs of academically and artistically able Oklahoma high school graduates;

C. A trimester plan of educational programs which will permit students to complete a baccalaureate degree in three years or less.

OSRHE further charged that the “curriculum be geared to the needs of the more academically able high school graduates ... and that admission and retention standards be raised... .”
OSRHE also directed that “the institution be encouraged to experiment with new instructional approaches... .”

Pursuant to those requirements, OCLA implemented a team-taught general education curriculum required of all students. OCLA also established a trimester system to facilitate graduation within three years.

On May 4, 1974, the Governor signed a bill by which OCLA became the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma (USAO). This name change became effective on August 16, 1974. 

The change was in name only. The University of Science and Arts retained and continues to retain the specific mission that OSRHE assigned to OCLA.

USAO has supplemented the OSRHE’s goals with the following articulation included in the college catalogue:

  1. To provide an outstanding general education program for the State of Oklahoma with strong offerings in the liberal arts and sciences. The program will feature interdisciplinary team teaching, and will extend throughout the undergraduate experience.

  2. To offer programs of study approved by the State Regents for Higher Education culminating in Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, and Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees.

  3. To offer a limited number of career, professional, and specialized degree programs which would be especially strengthened when combined with an interdisciplinary, liberal arts foundation.

  4. To provide a learning environment particularly suited to the needs of academically and artistically talented students while offering all students the advantages of an interdisciplinary liberal arts program.

  5. To assemble a faculty whose interests, knowledge, and experiences transcend their specialized fields of graduate study, and who are dedicated to liberal arts education.

  6. To operate on a flexible trimester plan which will permit some students to complete a baccalaureate degree in three years and allow all students to progress in their academic programs at a rate which they desire.

  7. To conduct research and foster scholarly activities appropriate to the nature and needs of the University.

  8. To provide cultural, educational, and professional opportunities and services which enrich the University and the State.

In 2005, pursuant to a directive by OSRHE, USAO embarked upon a Mission Enhancement Plan (MEP) to raise admissions standards, to expand marketing and development, to lower the faculty/student ratio, and to enhance residential student life. The underlying goal of the MEP is to advance the previous historic and specifically assigned mission more effectively. As of 2012, USAO has the highest admissions standards in the State of Oklahoma.