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The History of Cowley College

Since 1922, Cowley College’s commitment to each student’s success in their chosen field is the force that has endured. Our desire to enrich each student’s life is the passion that has sustained us through good times and bad times. From our first day to our last, we will make a difference in the lives of our students.


nationally accredited online college

The Heritage of Cowley College

We are proud of our heritage and excited about our future. Be a part of Cowley College.

The Arkansas City Junior College was established in 1922. For 30 years the college had facilities in the basement of the Arkansas City High School. Because the “basement university” experienced incredible growth, the creation of a college campus began with the construction of Galle-Johnson Hall in 1950. In 1965 our name was changed to Cowley County Community College and Vocational-Technical School to reflect our position of the community college for Cowley County.

Today, Cowley College has campuses and educational centers throughout south central Kansas in Arkansas City, Mulvane, Wellington, Wichita, and Winfield.

Our History Through Time

  • 1920’s
    In 1922, classes were taught on the top floor of the senior high school, where the Brown Center is today. Classes moved to the first floor, or basement, in 1924. Thus, the name “basement university” came about.
  • 1930’s
    The gymnasium, known as W.S. Scott Auditorium was built in 1936. Mr. Scott served as the academic dean, dean of student affairs and director of guidance services from 1966-1986.
  • 1950’s
    Groundbreaking began on Galle-Johnson Hall. Galle-Johnson Hall was named after the late Kurt R. Galle, who was dean at the time of its construction and the late Dr. Paul Johnson, who was the first president of the College.
  • 1960’s
    Dr. Paul Johnson became dean of the college in 1963. He was later designated the college’s first president on July 1, 1967. In 1968, a master plan was designed to purchase the land around Galle-Johnson Hall and the old Senior High School (which is now known as Ireland Hall). Also, on July 1, 1968, Dr. Gwendel A. Nelson became the college’s second president.
  • 1970’s
    The Renn Memorial Library was constructed in 1972. The late Nell Renn, who was a well-known Arkansas City resident and a former Kansas legislator, set aside about $270,000 in her will for construction of a library on the Cowley campus. Renn Memorial Library was named in honor of Mrs. Renn’s late husband, Oscar “Jack” Renn, one of the early instructors at the college and himself a Kansas legislator.In 1973, a bond issue was passed to build the Harold B. Walker Industrial Technology Building and a central heating plant. Dr. Charles Kerr and Harold Walker hold the distinction of having served the longest of any member of the college’s Board of Trustees since the first Board was elected in 1966. Both Kerr and Walker served 22 years.

    In 1974, Ireland Hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and declared a state landmark. The building was officially dedicated on December 12, 1982 and named after W.H. “Pat” Ireland.

    The Nelson Student Center and the Recreation Center (now known as the Linda Adams Hargrove Athletic Center), were new buildings on the campus in 1976. The Nelson Student Center was named after the second president of the college, Dr. Gwendel A. Nelson.

  • 1980’s
    The first dorm, now known as the D. Robert Storbeck Dormitory, was opened with housing accommodations for 80 students in 1980.Dr. Patrick J. McAtee became the college’s third president on July 1, 1987. Also, in 1987, the college’s first major off-campus location was opened in downtown Mulvane. While, the Kirke W. Dale Dormitory opened to house 86 students. Kirke Woodford Dale was a prominent attorney and State Senator from Cowley County.
  • 1990's

    Cowley opened its first Wellness Center in 1992. It was originally located at 117 W. Central Ave. After four years in that location, it was moved to its current spot at 201 W. Fifth Avenue. The Wellness Center is open to students, employees, and the general public.

    The William (Bill) R. Docking Dorm was opened  in 1994. William R. Docking is the Chairman of Union State Bank in Arkansas City, and president, CEO and chairman of Docking Bancshares. He is also the son of the late Kansas Governor, Robert F. Docking.

    The Brown Center, consisting of the Robert Brown Theatre, Earle N. Wright Community Room, vocal and instrumental music rooms, was completed and dedicated in 1995. Named after the late Robert A. Brown and Roger A. Brown families of Arkansas City and Home National Bank.

  • 2000's

    In fall 2000, the Sid Regnier Bookstore was added to the Ark City campus. Regnier was Cowley’s vice president of business services prior to retiring on October 3, 2000 after 26 years of service to the college.

    The Oscar Kimmell Dorm was opened in 2001 and houses 72 students. Kimmell was dedicated to the community and the college. He served a four-year term on the college’s Board of Trustees from 1979 to 1983, and served on the College Endowment Association from 1979 until 2002.

    The Patrick J. McAtee Dining Center was dedicated and opened in 2001. The Dining Center was named after Dr. Patrick J. McAtee who was the third president of the college.

    The Wellness Center was officially named the Ben Cleveland Wellness Center in 2003. Cleveland was a long-time coach at Cowley College. He also served as an Industrial Technology instructor and Department Chair. He was inducted into the Tiger Athletic Hall of Fame in 2000. He passed away on January 15, 2002, at the age of 69.

    A $350,000 gift from the Daisy E. and Paul H. Brown Charitable Trust helped make the Web-Brown Academic Center on the Arkansas City campus a reality. The building was formally dedicated September 1, 2005.

    Also, in 2005, a new automotive technology facility was opened in Mulvane to expand the Industrial Technology Department.

    In 2008, the Central Avenue Dormitory was built. The Dorm can house up to 104 students.

  • 2010's

    The college added another new dorm, The Lodge, in 2011. The Lodge is a coed building capable of housing 66 students.

    Also, in 2011, the college unveiled the Travis Hafner Training Center which benefits each of Cowley’s athletic teams and is considered to be one of the top junior college indoor training centers in the nation. The facility features a multi-purpose area, batting cages, weight facility, athletic training room, a pair of conference rooms, as well as locker rooms and restrooms.

    For more than two decades, Cowley has served over 20,000 students in the Wichita Metro, from its early beginnings at the Southside Education Center, through today, with the opening of the Wichita Downtown Center in 2015.

    Recognized as a pioneer in women’s athletics, Lady Tiger coaching legend Linda Hargrove was honored by having the Cowley College Recreation Building renamed the Linda Adams Hargrove Athletic Center during a ribbon cutting ceremony on May 9, 2018.

    Celebrating the historic opening of the Cowley College Sumner Campus Technology and Innovation Center in Wellington, KS, more than two hundred and fifty people attended a ribbon-cutting event held August 9, 2018.

    Along with the opening of the Sumner Campus Technology and Innovation Center, the Short General Education Center in Wellington opened in the fall of 2019.

  • Present

    Cowley College offers multiple majors and career pathway possibilities to prepare students for transfer to a four-year program or to enter the workforce with a two-year job-ready degree. In addition, the College provides enrichment and training opportunities to our community patrons and industries.

    Cowley College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, a regional accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and coordinated by the Kansas Board of Regents.

    Cowley offers over 120 different programs of study that guides a student on a pathway towards completing a degree or certificate.

    Students can complete their first two years of coursework leading toward a bachelor’s degree at a university in virtually any field of study. Cowley has articulation agreements with universities, online colleges, and technical schools in Kansas, Oklahoma, and beyond. Many associate degrees and certificates will give students the credentials and skills needed to immediately enter a specialized workforce.

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