| West Virginia State University was founded under the provisions of the Second Morrill Act of 1890 as the West Virginia Colored Institute, one of seventeen land-grant institutions authorized by Congress and designated by the states to provide for the education of black citizens in agriculture and the mechanical arts. West Virginia was one of the states that maintained segregated educational systems at that time.
From 1891 to 1915, the original Institute offered the equivalent of a high school education, vocational training, and teacher preparation. In 1915, the West Virginia Collegiate Institute began to offer college degrees. Under the leadership of President John W. Davis, the academic program was expanded and new buildings were constructed, and in 1927, the institution was accredited by the North Central Association; in 1929, it became West Virginia State College. Over the next decades, WVSC became recognized as one of the leading public institutions of higher education for blacks.
In 1954, the United States Supreme Court gave its historic decision outlawing school segregation. The consequence of this decision for West Virginia State College was a rapid transition from a black college to an integrated institution serving a predominantly white, commuting, and older student population. This shift in student population and mission occurred in part due to demographics and in part due to efforts made by the college administration to reverse a decline in enrollment during the early 1950's. Enrollment quadrupled during the following decades.
Meanwhile, by a decision of the West Virginia Board of Education, WVSC was compelled to surrender land-grant status, the only one of the 1890 institutions to do so. Only after a twelve-year effort by ninth president Hazo W. Carter, Jr. was the college's land-grant status fully restored, in 2001 by act of Congress.
A community college component was initiated during the 1970's, and at the direction of the state legislature, is now seeking independent accreditation as West Virginia State Community and Technical College. Recently, WVSU has been approved to begin offering graduate courses and has recieved university status.
The first half-century of the history of WVSC epitomizes the long struggle of African-Americans for educational opportunity and political, social, and economic equality. While desegregation changed the racial proportions of the student body, faculty, and staff, WVSC still emphasizes the diversity of its people and derives important values and elements of its mission from its tradition as a historically black college.