In 1898, Louisiana State Senator Robert Martin introduced legislation to establish the Southwestern Louisiana Industrial Institute. About three years later, on September 18, 1901, 100 students were on hand for the first day of class at Southwestern Louisiana Industrial Institute. They were greeted by Dr. Edwin Lewis Stephens, the school’s first president, who had led the transformation of a former sugar cane field into a campus. In 1903, 18 students were the first to graduate from SLII.
Over the next couple of decades, SLII raised admission standards, added faculty, and strengthened the curriculum. In 1921, SLII dropped “Industrial” from its name and awarded its first bachelor’s degrees. By the 1930s, the campus had grown to 175 acres and the College enrolled 918 students.
Southwestern Louisiana Institute’s existence was threatened in the 1940s when enrollment dropped drastically due to World War II. But SLI was chosen as the site for the V-5, V-7 and V-12 military training programs, which drew young officers from across the country and enhanced the student body.
After the war ended, SLI administrators grappled with a new problem-overcrowding- caused, in large part, by the number of military veterans who took advantage of federal financial assistance to earn academic degrees.
The campus and its academic programs grew during the prosperous 1950s. SLI began to offer master’s degrees and became the first all-white, state-supported public college in the South to enroll black students.
In 1960, SLI was granted university status and changed its name to the University of Southwestern Louisiana. In the 1960s, it adopted the nickname “Ragin’ Cajuns”® for its athletic teams. Creation of the Computing Center in 1960 brought national attention, since computer science was in its infancy. USL also began offering doctoral degrees in the Sixties.
In the 1970s, Louisiana-particularly Lafayette-enjoyed an Oil Boom. But when that boom disintegrated in the 1980s, university administrators grappled with repeated budget cuts as state revenue dwindled. USL led efforts to diversify Acadiana’s economy and a major fund drive raised $10 million in private gifts that were endowed to provide a steady funding source for scholarships and faculty salary supplements. During the same period the University focused its energies on its roles in research, scholarship, and graduate education.
By 1997, enrollment had grown to a record 17,018. A community college system was created in Louisiana in 1997, enabling the university to implement selective admissions criteria.
In 1999, USL changed its name to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette as it began its 100th birthday celebration.
Today, UL Lafayette’s diverse offerings range from the humanities to the hard sciences; it is among national leaders in areas such as computer science, biology, nursing and architecture. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette has been ranked among the top 100 public research universities in the United States, based on external funding its faculty members have attracted. The university has integrated an enriching student experience with the intellectual energy and solution-focused capabilities of a research university.
With the recent creation of an Office of Distance and Electronic Learning, UL Lafayette’s evolution includes the addition of more online courses and online degree programs that expand students’ learning opportunities beyond the traditional classroom.
PRESIDENTS SINCE FOUNDING
Edwin L. Stephens (1900-1938)
Lether Edward Frazar (1938-1941)
Joel L. Fletcher (1941-1966)
Clyde L. Rougeou (1966-1974)
Ray P. Authement (1974-2008)
E. Joseph Savoie (2008-present)