Oldest Universities in California

12 Oldest Universities in California

Education is a very important part of life. If people learn, then they can enhance their skills, improve their chances and achieve success. California, being the most populous state in the United States of America, is also home to some of the oldest universities in the country.

It has a vast number of colleges and universities that are very old but also with many historical factors. Universities in California have been around for hundreds of years.

California boasts a wide variety of educational opportunities. From community colleges to Ivy League universities, there is no shortage of schools to choose from. In this article, we will focus on the oldest universities in California.

12. Pacific Union College

Year Established: April 11, 1882
Place/Location: Angwin
Founder: Seventh Day Adventist Church
Status: Operating

photo source: puc.edu

Healdsburg Academy began operations on April 11, 1882, with two professors and 26 pupils. Healdsburg College became the name of the institution only a few months later. Pacific Union College was founded there in 1906.

In 1932, PUC became the first institution to get accreditation for colleges under the jurisdiction of the denominational Board of Regents. Another first for Adventist institutions came in 1933 when PUC received accreditation from the Northwest Association of Secondary and Higher Schools.

Did You Know?

Alongside Stanford and USC, Pacific is the premier private research university in the Pacific Northwest and among the best on the West Coast.


11. University of Southern California

Year Established: October 6, 1880
Place/Location: Los Angeles
Founder: Robert M. Widney
Status: Operating

University of Southern Californiaphoto source: about.usc.edu

It is California’s oldest private research university and was established by Robert M. Widney in 1880.

The university is made up of 22 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools. More than 115 foreign nations, as well as all fifty states in the U.S., and over 21,000 undergraduate and 28,500 graduate students attend it.

The university is also a member of the Association of American Universities, which it joined in 1969. One of the best colleges in the country, USC has a reputation for being extremely selective when it comes to admissions.

Did You Know?

In every Summer Olympics since 1912, an athlete from USC has won a gold medal, making it the only university in the world to do so.


10. University of California

Year Established: March 23, 1868
Place/Location: Berkeley
Founder: Frederick Low
Status: Operating

University of Californiaphoto source: wikipedia.org

When California Governor Haight signed the Organic Act on March 23, 1868, the aspirational idea that California should create a world-class public university—one that would benefit both the children of immigrants and settlers, landowners and industrial barons—became a reality.

A year later, 40 students and 10 faculty members walked through the doors of UC. As part of its egalitarian principles, the UC Regents decided in 1870 that women would be admitted on the same basis as males. This was a move that many Ivy League universities had not made for over a century.

Did You Know?

Blue and gold were chosen as the school’s colors in 1873. Gold depicts the “Golden State,” the blue skies over California and the Yale graduates who helped create the university.


9. Heald College

Year Established: August 8, 1863
Place/Location: San Francisco
Founder: Edward Payson Heald
Status: Permanently Closed

Heald Collegephoto source: civilbeat.org

Heald College was founded in 1863 in San Francisco by Edward Payson Heald. For a number of years, it was known as “Heald’s Business College,” but then, in 2001, the name was changed to what it is presently known as, “Heald College.”

Heald was a for-profit college until a private investment group bought it in 2007 and converted it to a non-profit organization.

Heald College, which is owned by Corinthian Colleges, sadly had to close permanently in April 2015 because of some issues.

Did You Know?

Heald College was shut down after the attorney general of California filed charges against it for allegedly using predatory advertising tactics and making false claims about the placement of its graduates in jobs following graduation.


8. Saint Mary’s College of California

Year Established: July 9, 1863
Place/Location: Moraga
Founder: Saint Mary’s College of California
Status: Operating

Saint Mary's College of Californiaphoto source: wikipedia.org

Saint Mary’s College’s doors were opened by Archbishop Alemany in 1863. After five years of hardship, he undertook the long voyage to Rome to request assistance from the Christian Brothers. In 1868, the superior of the Christian Brothers despatched nine primarily Irish Brothers from New York to San Francisco by ship to oversee the new school.

Within a short period of time, the Brothers were able to double enrollment, maintain the college’s financial stability, and make Saint Mary’s the biggest college in California at the time. Awarded in 1872 were the first bachelor’s degrees.

Did You Know?

With connections to 900 academic institutions worldwide, Saint Mary’s College is a component of the Lasallian network.


7. Chapman University

Year Established: March 4, 1861
Place/Location: Orange
Founder: Charles Chapman
Status: Operating

photo source: chapman.edu

In Woodland, California, Hesperian College, the origin of what is now Chapman University, opened its doors on March 4, 1861, precisely one hour before Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated.

The Christian Church provided membership to its founding members (Disciples of Christ). They valued educational freedom highly among their members. They had an innovative and out-of-the-ordinary conception of schooling. Higher education, according to them, should benefit people of all sexes and religious beliefs.

Did You Know?

Chapman University was first founded as Hesperian College.


6. San Jose State University

Year Established: 1857
Place/Location: San Jose
Founder: George W. Minns
Status: Operating

San Jose State Universityphoto source: sjsu.edu

The Minns Evening Normal School, which is now known as San José State University, was first founded in San Francisco in 1857 by George W. Minns.

54 women completed a three-year curriculum at Minns Evening Normal School, which was renamed the California State Normal School by an act of the California legislature in 1862.

Washington Square Park, S. was granted to the school when it ultimately moved to San Jose in 1871.

Did You Know?

In addition to serving first-generation student populations and promoting racial and cultural diversity, San José State is exceptional for its long history of student civil rights advocacy.


5. University of San Francisco

Year Established: October 15, 1855
Place/Location: San Francisco
Founder: Anthony Maraschi
Status: Operating

University of San Franciscophoto source: usfca.edu

In 1855, Jesuits established St. Ignatius Academy, which later became the University of San Francisco. After receiving a state charter in 1859, the institution gained college standing. It was San Francisco’s very first higher education facility.

 In 1863, the first bachelor’s degree in the arts was granted, and the first master’s degree followed in 1867. Following the campus’ devastation by the big earthquake and subsequent fire in 1879, the school was moved twice—in 1880 and again in 1906.

Did You Know?

In terms of racial diversity, the USF School of Law is rated sixth in the US. Information and World Report.


4. Mills College

Year Established: 1852
Place/Location: Benicia
Founder: Mary Atkins
Status: Operating

Mills Collegephoto source: mills.edu

Black, indigenous, and other students of color, as well as LGBTQ+ students and first-generation college students, have all benefited academically from Mills College at Northeastern.

Mills College, established in 1852, was the first institution to establish a transgender admissions policy.

Did You Know?

Mills has taken pride in being a leader in all-higher women’s education.


3. Notre Dame de Namur University

Year Established: 1851
Place/Location: Belmont
Founder: Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur
Status: Operating

Notre Dame de Namur Universityphoto source: wikipedia.org

As the Academy of Notre Dame, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur founded Notre Dame de Namur University in 1851 on 10 acres in San Jose, California.

Although it started as an institution in 1851, together with Santa Clara University and the University of the Pacific (formerly known as California Wesleyan College), it only considers itself to be the third oldest university based on the description posted on its Facebook page.

It was the first institution of higher education in the state of California to be able to provide bachelor’s degrees to women.

Did You Know?

The university, along with the University of Southern California and the University of Michigan, boasts one of the top three D1 football programs among the top 30 universities.


2. Santa Clara University

Year Established: 1851
Place/Location: Santa Clara
Founder: John Nobili
Status: Operating

Santa Clara Universityphoto source: smc.edu

Santa Clara University is a member of the Roman Catholic Jesuit order and is located in Santa Clara, California, in the United States. In addition to a range of undergraduate programs, it also grants graduate and professional degrees in fields including law, business, engineering, teaching, counseling psychology, and pastoral ministries.

The Santa Clara de Asis mission, which was first built by Franciscans in 1777, was where the school was initially located. The architecture on campus is largely in the Spanish style. The oldest structure on campus is The Adobe Lodge, which was constructed in 1822 and refurbished in 1981.

Before adding college-level courses in 1853, the college initially only provided preparatory courses.

Did You Know?

In 1851, Santa Clara College opened as an exclusive preparatory school for boys.


1. University of the Pacific

Year Established: 1851
Place/Location: Sacramento, San Francisco, and Stockton
Founder: Methodist Ministers
Status: Operating

photo source: pacific.edu

Formerly known as California Wesleyan College, the University of the Pacific is the oldest university in California. Founded in 1851 by the Methodist Episcopal Church, it has a long history of educating students for careers in fields such as business and law.

California Wesleyan is located in California. The college’s mission is to educate students who can excel in their chosen career paths through rigorous academics and real-world experiences.

The college prides itself on its Christian education and offers a wide variety of classes, including philosophy, theology, history, literature, political science, economics, and sociology.

Did You Know?

The Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry offers a three-year dentistry degree, and Pacific is renowned for its proficiency in the health sciences.

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