Arkansas has a rich educational landscape comprising some of the best and biggest institutions. These offer a platform for learners to achieve academic excellence that’ll pivot them to the next level in life.
What may be surprising is how old some of these institutions are. We can trace the ancient institutions' roots back to the 1800s, from very humble beginnings. Also, what’s so fascinating is that some of these Arkansas institutions are still open today, providing learning platforms that are fulfilling the founders' dreams of offering a quality education to thousands of children.
Let's explore some of the oldest Arkansas schools and uncover interesting facts about them.
University of the Ozarks
415 N. College Avenue, Clarksville, AR 72830
The private University of Ozarks is in Clarksville, Arkansas. You can trace its establishment back to 1834. That makes it one of the oldest Arkansas universities and higher education institutions lying west of the Mississippi River. The Cumberland Presbyterians get all the credit for establishing the campus.
But it was not a university right away, as in the beginning, it was Cane Hill High School. It went on to become Arkansas Cumberland College and, in 1920, College of the Ozarks. The University also made history as the first to admit female students in 1875. They went on with the trend of firsts, with the establishment of the state's first pharmacy school.
Low enrollments made it impossible for the school to keep teaching students at the location. They leased the facility to the United States Navy and held classes off-campus. 1957 was another significant year because it became the first predominantly White University to integrate. The first lot of graduating African-American students was in 1959.
The College of Ozarks adopted the name the University of the Ozarks in 1987. Since then, student and faculty involvement has been on a steady increase. The school enjoys massive support from the community, with an endowment of more than 100 million. The funds go into scholarships, academic programs, facilities, and faculty and staff benefits.
Student life involves participation in athletics like baseball, basketball, cross-country, softball, and soccer.
Notable alumni include the following University of the Ozarks Hall of Fame inductees.
- Star athlete Patrick Baker
- Tennis star Julie Richardson Bernard
- Basketball player Marcus Thornton
- Softball player Sarah Bartholomew Johnson
- Cross country and basketball multi-sport athlete Beverly Massengale
- Coach Carl Ramsey, and more.
In 2016, the university undertook a rebranding initiative. They also signed partnership agreements with two universities from France for dual graduate and undergraduate degrees. Today, the University of the Ozarks is home to some 784 undergraduates.
Mount St. Mary Academy
3224 Kavanaugh Boulevard, Little Rock, 72205, Arkansas
Mount Saint Mary Academy is a Catholic College Preparatory School that only admits girls. The curriculum is rooted in Gospel values due to its Catholic tradition. Indeed, its very existence is due to the Sisters of Mercy, a religious catholic institution founded in Dublin.
Andrew Byrne, the first Arkansas Catholic bishop to Arkansas, set up the St. Mary's Academy in 1951. He went to Dublin to appeal to the Sisters of Mercy to give him faculty for the new Little Rock Diocese. The sisters were kind enough to provide him with five postulants and four sisters. This team went on to form what’s now Mount St. Mary Academy. To date, the Sisters of Mercy play an integral role in the school, including sponsorships.
The first location was at Seventh and Louisiana Street in Little Rock. In 1908, Mount St. Mary Academy moved to its current location due to insufficient space at Little Rock. Money for the purchase came from local contributions and the sale of the downtown location.
Since then, Mount St. Mary, the oldest Arkansas institution, has continued to grow and expand its academic offering. Young ladies have a platform that allows them to grow spiritually and academically.
The school website shows that it has a 100% college acceptance rate. The grade 9 to 12 schools have won industry accolades, including Best Private School in reader's polls. Despite its Catholic background, 33% of the student population practice other faiths.
Beyond classwork are athletic activities like golf, cross country, volleyball, track, and field. The school ranked 8 of 37 in the Best College Prep Private High Schools in Arkansas and 13 of 37 in Best Private High Schools in Arkansas.
Christ Little Rock
315 South Hughes Street, Little Rock, 72205, Arkansas
Christ Little Rock has been offering Arkansas children educational opportunities since 1870. At its founding, it went by the name First Lutheran School. There doesn't seem to be much information, even on the website, about the school's history and its establishment, though.
Accreditation for the school comes from the Arkansas Non-Public School Accreditation Association and the National Lutheran Schools Association.
Christ Little Rock takes in students from kindergarten to the 8th grade. Apart from the core subjects, 4th and 8th graders can sign up for the gifted and talented program. Despite the rigorous curriculum, the extracurricular activities and family atmosphere makes learning a fun experience.
University of Arkansas
1 University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, 72701 Arkansas
You may find references to the University of Arkansas as UArk, U of A or UA. Indeed the University seems to have a penchant for names. At its establishment in 1871, people knew it as the Arkansas Industrial University. It stayed with that name until finally adopting the University of Arkansas in 1899.
The University of Arkansas falls under public land-grant facilities. A public land-grant University is one that can receive state benefits as per the Morrill Act of 1862 and 1890. The University is also the flagship University of Arkansas system campus.
The first location of the University was in Washington County on a hilltop farm owned by William Mcllroy. That led to the locals giving it a nickname: The Hill. Lessons began officially on January 22, 1872, with the first batch of students being one girl and seven boys. But it wasn't long before more students joined the University.
By the end of the first year, there were students under the guidance of three faculty members. The challenge was that many did not have the preparatory coursework necessary for higher education. In response, the University started to offer a college degree curriculum and preparatory coursework.
Expansion plans were soon underway with the construction of a new building under the architect John van Osdel. 1875 marks the opening and dedication of the new building, the University called Old Main. To date, it happens to be the largest one in the state and an important landmark in the Arkansas education system.
Female and male students stayed on different sides of the campus. The first residence hall on the western side of the Old Main was for male students. The ladies ended up in the northeast after the construction of the Carnal Hall. Rapid expansion continued within the 1920s and still goes on to date.
In terms of academics, the University of Arkansas has more than 200 study programs for bachelor's, master's, doctoral, and law degrees. Besides that is a robust athletic division featuring sports like football, basketball, baseball, softball, and track and field.
Notable alumni from the University include the following.
- Walmart Incorporated CEO and President Doug McMillon
- Walmart Incorporated founding chairman S Robson Walton
- Former president of Panama Ricardo Martinelli
- Mathematician John R Stallings
- Dallas Cowboys President and Owner Jerry Jones
- Professional basketballers Patrick Beverley, Jannero Pargo, Joe Johnson and Bobby Portis
- Former Miss Arkansas Savvy Shields
The University of Arkansas has become the beacon of Arkansas education and’ll remain so for a long time.
University of Arkansas in the News
On July 20th, 2023, ABC 7 reported that the University of Arkansas's Pine Bluff campus received a $110,000 donation from alumni for their football and golf teams. The majority of the funds will go towards much-needed renovations in the football locker room. The donation was met with heavy praise from U of A's athletic staff, who stated that the funds would help them build a “state-of-the-art” locker room to serve their football team.
On July 7, 2023, Axios reported that Tyson Foods has added the University of Arkansas to its list of colleges that employees can receive a degree or certification at for free. Through this program, Tyson Foods covers the cost of tuition and books for over 120,000 employees. The degree programs are completed entirely online; covered options include a bachelor's in general business, supply chain management, and human resources management.
On July 21, 2023, UArk News announced that the U of A has named Lance Turner as their new Director of Project Management for IT Services. Turner will be tasked with ensuring the school is compliant with regulations, as well as spearheading projects to improve the school's existing IT infrastructure. He joined U of A as a project manager in November 2021; prior to that, he worked as a programmer and software engineer for Walmart.
Arkansas College, now Lyon College
2300 Highland Road, Batesville, 72501, Arkansas
If you search for Arkansas College, what comes up is Lyon College. That’s the current name for the campus that established its roots in Arkansas in 1872. The private liberal arts college is the oldest independent one in the region and has close ties with the Presbyterian Church.
The first location is where the Batesville Presbyterian Church currently stands. For a long time, it ran under the leadership of the Long family, with Reverend Isaac J. Long serving as the president. Thereafter, his son Eugene Long took over, serving two terms until 1913. The co-educational college focused on classical studies until the early 20th century.
The 1920s were significant for the college because this was a time of massive expansion. The new location was East End Heights, which later became the middle campus.
The 1930s were marked with trying times for Arkansas College. It's only due to financial support from alumni and some Batesville groups that it managed to keep its doors open.
The 50s were progressive times for Arkansas College, including the move to the current location in 1954. Five years later, they got accreditation from the North Central Association. Further expansions happened in the 60s, including a more ethnically diverse student body.
In the 1990s, under President John V. Griffith, the college continued on an aggressive expansion. It added several academic buildings, including the Hollywood Theater, a business and economics building, Bradley Manor, and the residence hall upper division.
1994 was also the year that Arkansas College changed its name to Lyon College. That was an homage to the family that had faithfully served the college over the years.
Today, Arkansas College is a Baccalaureate College that churns out top-performing graduates. It offers 20 disciplines for undergraduates and other programs like education, law, medicine, and physical therapy. High school pupils can also sign up for the Upward Bound Math-Science program and the APPLE Project Upward Bound Program.
Outside the classroom work are extracurricular activities like athletics. Available spots include baseball, football, cross country, softball and track and field.
Notable alumni from the college include the following.
- Judd Deere, former White House press assistant to Donald Trump
- American zoologist Robert Cashner
- American chemical engineer Paul K. Calaway
- American author John Horner Jacobs
- American political consultant Debbie Willhite
- American football coach Paul Fiser
Judging by its history of overcoming difficult times and achieving remarkable growth, it’s safe to say Lyon College will continue to be an integral part of Arkansas's educational landscape.
1600 Washington Avenue, Conway, 72032, Arkansas
At the time of its establishment, Hendrix College went by the name Central Institute. The first location was in Altus, Arkansas. The college owes its existence to a Methodist minister, Isham L. Burrow.
In 1881 Central Institute became Central Collegiate Institute and incorporated secondary and collegiate departments. The Southern Methodist Church bought the college in 1884 and, in 1889, changed its name to Hendrix College. This was an homage to Bishop Eugene R. Hendrix.
The first relocation was in 1990 to Conway, Arkansas. Student enrollment increased quite significantly into the 90s, reaching 1,000 students. By the end of the 20th century, Hendrix College had undertaken an aggressive expansion plan with several new buildings within the campus.
In 2005 the college added the Hendrix Odyssey program, which focuses on engaged learning for every student.
Today Hendrix College, a liberal arts college, mentors undergraduate students. Despite its close affiliation with the United Methodist Church, students undergo a secular curriculum. Also, the school practices diversity and welcomes everyone, including those from different religious backgrounds.
There are many extracurricular activities, including athletics and numerous student organizations. Sports teams participate in various sports, such as football, cross country, basketball, tennis, and swimming.
Notable alumni from Hendrix College include the following.
- American actress Ashley Atkinson
- Author Charles R Attwood
- Opera conductor Sarah Caldwell
- Country singer and songwriter Hayes Carll
- Spoken word performer and writer Clint Catalyst
- NHL Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold
- Cheese connoisseur Max McCalman
- ESPN host and sportscaster Tommy Sanders
Hendrix College enjoys an excellent reputation in Arkansas and beyond. This is clear with the many accolades and industry recognitions it has won over the years. Its contribution to the Arkansas education landscape is indeed notable.
Hendrix College in the News
On July 19, 2023, it was revealed by the Hendrix Warriors' website that Hendrix alumni Keith Taylor has been named the new Offensive Line coach for the college's football team. He has been working with the Warriors for four years now; prior to this new position, he worked as an assistant coach and primarily focused on the tight ends.
On July 14, 2023, Hendrix College announced that it had set the date for its Warrior Booster Club Golf Tournament to October 23. All proceeds from the tournament benefit the Warrior Booster Club. Various prizes will be offered to the top teams, as well as the winners of a set of contests. Entry fee for the tournament is $500 for a team or $125 for a single person. In addition to the cost of play, the fee includes lunch and a gift bag.
Fort Smith, Now Northside High School
2301 North B Street, Fort Smith, 72901, Arkansas
Construction of the Fort Smith High School building was completed in 1897. Fort Smith moved into the building on 23rd and B Street on November 19, 1928. It was a pretty large facility with a capacity of 3,000 students. An expansion of the building happened in 1956 with the construction of an annexe. In 1959 the school had over 1,700 students, making it the largest in Arkansas.
Northside High School, one of the two public high schools in Fort Smith, has continued to grow and excel over the years. The ethnic profile is diverse, comprising Asians, African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Caucasians.
1992 and 93 were significant years for the school as the US Department of Education bestowed upon it the National Blue Ribbon of Excellence. This award program recognizes exemplary performance by both public and private schools. Northside high school has also been the winner of the American Scholastics Competition Network Championship in the years 1993 and 2001.
Students can access sports like volleyball, golf, bowling, swimming, wrestling, and soccer. Fort Smith Northside Grizzlies have taken various state championships in football, basketball, tennis, track, and soccer.
Notable alumni from Fort Smith include the following.
- Oakland Raiders Football assistant coach Mark Hutson
- Actress Jennifer Billingsley
- Green Bay Packers player Keandre Thomas
- American football coach Kodi Burns
- Washington Redskins linebacker Robin Caldwell
Sacred Heart Catholic School
506 East Broadway, Morrilton, 72110, Arkansas
Sacred Heart Catholic School is a pre-kindergarten to grade 12 Catholic School. It offers a faith-based education and has been doing so since its establishment in 1879. This all began with the work of the sisters of Saint Joseph of Cluny in France. In 1879, they set up a 3-storey building in Morrilton to serve as a convent, chapel and school.
The sisters of Saint Joseph returned to Cluny, prompting Charles Laengst to get a commitment from the Sisters of Notre Dame. They responded by giving him two sisters and a novice to work as teachers and a cook, respectively. The school started taking in children but without any grade or class division.
Enrollment was low because the sisters opened the institution during the cotton-picking season. The sisters persisted, though, and in the second year, registration was at 21 pupils. From then, there was steady progress in the growth and development of Sacred Heart Catholic School. The initiation of the first curriculum was in September 1919. In 1921 they introduced the four-year high school program with 12 freshmen, with the first graduation in 1925.
The sisters of Notre Dame left the institution in 1984. But they left behind a strong team of dedicated teachers who continue to be vital to the school's progress.
Students participate in out-of-class activities such as athletics. The girls' basketball team has been a class A State championship win in 2006 and 2007.
Arkansas Is Home To Ancient Schools
Arkansas has a vibrant educational system that continues to churn out qualified graduates. We've looked at some of the oldest institutions which still operate. And from their strong standing, we can expect them to be around for years and, indeed, generations to come.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com.