History of the University

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

For 140 years, thousands of people have traveled paths that led to the University of Illinois, one of the largest state universities in the nation with campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The University was one of 37 public land-grant institutions established after the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act was signed by Abraham Lincoln on July 2, 1862. Illinois was one of seven commonwealths that had not formed a state university. Eligible for a grant of 480,000 acres of public scrip land valued at $600,000, in 1867 the state established a university for the purpose of fostering access to higher education for the working people.

Thus began the institution's rich history, then named the Illinois Industrial University and led by Regent John Milton Gregory. Its roots began as one building located in the muddy fields between the Illinois Central train station in Champaign and the courthouse in Urbana.

James Newton Matthews became the University's first student, enrolling in March 1868. He was among the founding editors of the Student, a publication that is today the Daily Illini. Matthews was one of 50 students — all male — who enrolled at the beginning of the first semester.

More than twenty years after its founding, Regent Selim Peabody persuaded the legislature to change the name of the institution from the Illinois Industrial University to the University of Illinois. The goal was to reflect higher educational aspirations and to acknowledge the increasing enrollment in the engineering school. During this time, many other land-grant institutions also changed their names to "State College" or "State University."

The campus has since expanded far beyond its roots as a single building on a prairie. The 785-acre campus located in east-central Illinois includes architectural gems from the 1800s as well as high-tech buildings such as the Seibel Center and the Institute for Genomic Biology. More than 41,000 students call Urbana-Champaign home each year, and they enroll in an array of academic and extracurricular programs that strengthen their educational experience and prepare them to be leaders in a global society.

Today, the Urbana campus is a world leader in research, teaching and public engagement. Distinguished by the breadth and quality of its curriculum and programs, the campus attracts faculty who conduct world-class interdisciplinary research and scholarship in an environment that enables creative thinking and promotes academic excellence. Urbana boasts Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners and faculty whose research is among the most cited in their fields. The Urbana campus is a comprehensive research institution that ranks in the top 50 universities nationally for research and development dollars spent in science and engineering.

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The University of Illinois at Chicago

The history of the Chicago campus dates back to the late 19th century and the origins of the Chicago College of Pharmacy (1859), the College of Physicians and Surgeons (1882), and the Columbian College of Dentistry (1891). In 1896, the Chicago College of Pharmacy became the School of Pharmacy of the University of Illinois. The other Chicago-based health colleges later affiliated with the University in 1896-97, becoming fully incorporated into the University of Illinois in 1913, as the Colleges of Medicine, Dentistry, and Pharmacy.

University of Illinois at Chicago In the succeeding decades, several other health science colleges were brought together as the Chicago Professional Colleges of the University of Illinois. During the early 1930s, the University consolidated its professional colleges — including pharmacy, medicine, dentistry and others — on the Near West Side, making Chicago home to one of the world's largest concentration of medical institutions.

Following World War II, the University of Illinois increased its presence in Chicago by creating a temporary, two-year branch campus, the Chicago Undergraduate Division, which welcomed almost 4,000 students each semester. Housed on Navy Pier, the campus accommodated primarily student veterans on the G.I. Bill. The campus was not a junior college. Rather, it had a curriculum based on Urbana's courses, and students who successfully completed the first two years requirements could go on to Urbana and finish their degree.

Demand for a public university education in Chicago remained high, even after the first wave of veterans passed, so the University made plans to create a permanent degree-granting campus in the Chicago area. After a long and controversial site decision process, Mayor Richard J. Daley in 1961 offered the Harrison and Halsted streets location on the city's historic Near West Side for the new campus.

Named the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle (UICC), the new campus opened in February 1965. Unlike the Navy Pier campus, "Circle" was a degree-granting institution, with ambitions to become a great university. Many of the newly recruited faculty came because it was connected to a strong research university and they pushed for rapid development into a research-oriented school emphasizing graduate instruction. Within five years of the campus' opening, virtually every department offered graduate degrees.

In 1982, the Medical Center and Circle Campus consolidated to form the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). The merger strengthened the University's potential for scholarly excellence and pushed UIC to Carnegie Research 1 institution status in 1987. The Chicago campus is a comprehensive research institutions that ranks in the top 50 universities nationally for research and development dollars spent in science and engineering.

In 2000, UIC expanded with the development of South Campus, providing increased residential student living space and research facilities. Through its history, UIC has been a leader in the creation of a new model of higher education: the comprehensive urban research university.

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The University of Illinois at Springfield

The University of Illinois at Springfield (UIS) joined the University of Illinois family in 1995 on the 25th anniversary of its founding as Sangamon State University, which was established by the Illinois General Assembly in 1969. The campus occupies 700 acres located six miles southeast of Springfield. At the time, SSU was one of two upper-division and graduate universities in Illinois and the smallest of the twelve state universities in Illinois. Many of the students were over the age of thirty and many were transfers from community colleges and traditional four-year institutions.

University of Illinois at Springfield The University of Illinois at Springfield provides an intellectually rich, collaborative and intimate learning environment while serving local, regional, state, national and international communities. Students who attend the Springfield campus seek the outstanding liberal arts education. Students benefit from individual attention in small classes taught by faculty who are dedicated to teaching excellence, scholarship and service as well as innovative approaches to learning.

Making a difference in the world is a tenet of the UIS educational philosophy. Faculty and students enrich the life of the city of Springfield, and graduates assume leadership positions in government, media and communications. Strong programs in political science, legal studies, public administration and criminal justice, along with extraordinary connections to government have produced leaders dedicated to public service. UIS focuses on educating future leaders who have been immersed in the teachings of global understanding, tolerance, ethical behavior, and the great traditions of democracy.

Conveniently located in the state capital, the University of Illinois at Springfield offers opportunities for public and private sector partnerships, and many students graduate with an impressive record of internships and volunteerism. Students enjoy real world experience in civic education and public affairs.

UIS is home to research institutes such as the Center for State Policy and Leadership and owns research facilities such as the Emiquon Field Station, where students work alongside scientists from the Nature Conservancy, documenting one of the largest wetlands restorations in the world.

Learn more about the history of the University of Illinois at Springfield.