Founders Day 2016
The Birth of the Modern Ohio University
By: Roderick J. McDavis, President
February 18, 2016
There are many reasons I love Ohio University – one of the greatest being the place we hold in American history. Our institution was formed when our country was still in its infancy. Less than 30 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, Manasseh Cutler’s vision of a college in the wilderness was realized. The campus and the community we all hold so dear grew from that vision! This Founders Day, I urge each of us to take a moment and reflect on the early decisions that insured not only our existence, but our continued prosperity.
Eighty years ago, our university was on the verge of a major transformation. Ohio University had experienced growth in its first 132 years, but nothing like what was about to transpire in the late 1930s. Back when the country was in the midst of the Great Depression and The Post was called The Green and White, Ohio University had reached an historic turning point.
Colleges and universities all over the country were beginning to offer more diverse and more rigorous series of course offerings. Higher education standards were changing and in an effort to guarantee our survival, President Herman James knew Ohio University needed to evolve.
At that time, the university consisted of two main divisions: The College of Education and The College of Liberal Arts. On November 26, 1935, the Board of Trustees approved a motion that would allow the reorganization of our academic programs into seven degree-granting colleges. Thus, at the beginning of the 1936 Fall Semester, The College of Arts and Sciences, The University College, The College of Fine Arts, The College of Applied Science, The Graduate College, The College of Commerce and The College of Education were created. This was the birth of the modern Ohio University and looks very similar to our current organizational structure.
At the foundation of the new Seven Colleges Initiative was The University College. All students coming to OHIO began their academic journeys there, enrolled in the same courses and learning the basic fundamentals needed to succeed. President James believed that incoming freshmen at the time were not properly prepared for these new academic rigors so the purpose of The University College was to properly transition them into academia. Once their freshman year was complete, students were then able to transfer to the college of their choice within Ohio University. The intent of this design was to build confidence within freshman and increase their retention rates. President James’ Seven Colleges Initiative was deemed a remarkable success and received national acclaim, helping the college to attract many new students.
A headline in The Green and White boasted “Record Enrollment Expected as 7-College Plan Is Inaugurated.” University officials at the time predicted registration “may even exceed 2,600.” What happened next was an enrollment boom that far exceeded that original expectation. In the next five years, enrollment increased from 2,510 in 1935 to 3,501 in 1940. That is an increase of more than 39%! This upward trend has, for the most part, continued to the present day. More and more students are calling OHIO home, some of them grandchildren to those first few students enrolled in one of the early seven colleges. Our campus continues to grow to accommodate those seeking enlightenment and our alumni ties are some of the strongest in the world.
In order to appreciate all we have achieved, it is important to reflect on how far we have come. Please join me this Founders Day in celebrating the birth of the modern Ohio University that took place in the Fall of 1936. I also encourage you to visit the 5th floor of Alden Library and dig deeper into the Seven Colleges Initiative and our collective, rich history. By doing so, I promise you will grow to love Ohio University even more.