Texas A&M University (Texas A&M, A&M, or TAMU) is a public, land-grant, research university in College Station, Texas. It was founded in 1876 and became the flagship institution of the Texas A&M University System in 1948. Since 2021, Texas A&M has enrolled the largest student body in the United States, and is the only university in Texas to hold simultaneous designations as a land-, sea-, and space-grant institution. It is classified among “R1: Doctoral Universities – Very high research activity” and a member of the Association of American Universities.
The university was the first public higher education institution in Texas; it opened for classes on October 4, 1876, as the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (A.M.C.) under the provisions of the 1862 Morrill Land-Grant Act. In the following decades, the college grew in size and scope, expanding to its largest enrollment during WWII before its first significant stagnation in enrollment post-war. Enrollment grew again in the 1960s under the leadership of President James Earl Rudder, during whose tenure, the college desegregated, became coeducational, and ended the requirement for participation in the Corps of Cadets. In 1963, to reflect the institution’s expanded roles and academic offerings, the Texas Legislature renamed the college Texas A&M University; the letters “A&M” were retained as a tribute to the university’s former designation.
The university’s main campus spans over 5,500 acres, and includes the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. The university offers degrees in more than 130 courses of study through 17 colleges, and houses 21 research institutes. As a senior military college, Texas A&M is one of six American universities with a full-time, volunteer Cadet Corps whose members study alongside civilian undergraduate students. About one-fifth of the student body lives on campus. Texas A&M has more than 1,000 officially recognized student organizations. Many students observe university traditions that govern conduct in daily life and sporting events. The university’s students, alumni, and sports teams are known as Aggies, and its athletes compete in eighteen varsity sports as a member of the Southeastern Conference.
In 1862, the U.S. Congress passed the Morrill Act, which auctioned land grants of public lands to establish endowments for colleges at which the “leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and mechanical arts… to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life”. In 1871, the Texas Legislature used these funds to establish the state’s first public institution of higher education, the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, (Texas A.M.C.). Brazos County donated 2,416 acres near Bryan, Texas, for the college’s campus. From its beginning until the late 1920s, students were officially nicknamed “Farmers” but the moniker “Aggies”—a common nickname for students at schools focused heavily on agriculture—gained favor and became the official student-body nickname in 1949.
The first day of classes was set for October 2, 1876, but only six students enrolled on the first day. Classes were delayed and officially began on October 4 with six faculty members and forty students at the military school. During the first semester, enrollment increased to 48 students and by the end of the 1877 spring semester, 106 students had enrolled. Admission was limited to white males, who were required to participate in the Corps of Cadets and receive military training. Originally, the college taught no classes in agriculture or engineering, instead concentrating on classical studies, languages, literature, and applied mathematics. After initial resistance from faculty, the college began to focus on degrees in scientific agriculture, and civil and mechanical engineering. In 1881, enrollment grew to 258 but declined to 108 in 1883, the same year the University of Texas opened in Austin. Although originally envisioned and annotated in the Texas Constitution as a branch of the soon-to-begin University of Texas, Texas A.M.C. had a separate Board of Directors from the University of Texas and was never incorporated into the University of Texas System.
In the late 1880s, many Texas residents saw no need for two colleges in Texas and advocated for the elimination of Texas A.M.C. In 1891, the college was saved from closure by its new president Lawrence Sullivan Ross, former Governor of Texas and former Confederate Brigadier General, by demonstrating the college could function and excel in its established form under proper leadership. Ross made many improvements to the campus, installing running water and permanent dormitories. Enrollment doubled under his tenure to 467 cadets as parents sent their sons to Texas A.M.C. to emulate the traits of Ross. Many college traditions began under Ross’s presidency, including the creation of the first Aggie Ring, the senior class ring. Ross served until his death in 1898; to honor his contributions to the college, a statue of him was erected in 1918 in front of modern-day Academic Plaza.
Initially, women were permitted to attend classes only as “special students” but were not permitted to seek degrees. In 1893, Ethel Hudson, a daughter of one of the faculty, became the first woman to take classes; in 1899, her sisters Sophie and Mary Hudson did the same. Though not explicitly envisioned as such, over time it became a de facto all-male institution and led to a decades-long debate about the role of women at the college. In 1911, under pressure from the Texas Legislature, the college allowed women to attend classes during the summer semester. A.M.C. expanded its academic offerings with the establishment of the School of Veterinary Medicine in 1915.
World Wars era
Many Texas A&M alumni served during World War I and by 1918, 49% of all Aggies were in military service, a higher proportion than that of any other American college or university. In early September 1918, the entire senior class enlisted, and there were plans to send the younger students at staggered dates throughout the next year. Many of the seniors were fighting in France when the war ended two months later. More than 1,200 alumni served as commissioned officers. After the war, Texas A&M grew rapidly and became nationally recognized for its programs in agriculture, engineering, and military science. The first graduate school was organized in 1924 and the school awarded its first PhD in 1940. In 1925, Mary Evelyn Crawford Locke became the first female student to receive a diploma from Texas A&M but she was not allowed to participate in the graduation ceremony. The following month, the Board of Directors officially prohibited all women from enrolling.
Many Texas A&M alumni served in the military during World War II; the college’s educational and technical training resulted in 20,229 trained combat troops for U.S. military efforts. Of those, 14,123 alumni served as officers, more than any other school, and more than the combined total of the United States Naval Academy and the United States Military Academy. At the start of World War II, Texas A&M was selected as one of six engineering colleges to participate in the Electronics Training Program, which would train Navy personnel to maintain new radar systems. During the war, 29 Texas A&M graduates reached the rank of general.
After the end of World War II, enrollment rapidly grew as many former soldiers used the G.I. Bill to fund their education; however, enrollment stagnated in the following decade.
In 1948, the state legislature established the Texas A&M College Station campus as the flagship of a new system of universities, the Texas A&M University System. Its goal was to serve as the lead institution to foster the evolution of a statewide educational, research and service system.
On July 1, 1959, Major General James Earl Rudder, class of 1932, became the 16th president of the college. In 1963, with the backing of State Senator William T. “Bill” Moore, the 58th Legislature of Texas approved Rudder’s proposal for a substantial expansion of the college. Over the coming years, Texas A&M augmented and upgraded its physical plant and facilities, and diversified and expanded its student body by admitting women and minorities. Membership in the Corps of Cadets also became voluntary from the start of the fall semester of 1963. Initially, the decision to admit women made the student body very unhappy. The change was initially resisted and some minor efforts to reverse it persisted for several decades. The positive impact of these changes was rapid. By 1972, on-campus housing was dedicated for women and in 1976, the student body elected its first Black student-body president. In the same series of actions, the Texas legislature officially renamed the school “Texas A&M University”, specifying the symbolic nature of the letters “A” and “M”, which reflect the institution’s past, and no longer denote “Agricultural and Mechanical”.
By the time of his death in 1970, Rudder had overseen the growth of the college from 7,500 to 14,000 students from all 50 U.S. states and from 75 other nations. In the 35 years following his death, Texas A&M more than tripled its enrollment from 14,000 students to more than 45,000. Texas A&M became one of the first four universities given the designation sea-grant for its achievements in oceanography and marine resources development in 1971. In 1989, the university earned the title space-grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to recognize its commitment to space research and participation in the Texas Space Grant Consortium. In 1997, the university opened the Bush School of Government and Public Service and the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum—one of fifteen American presidential libraries operated by the National Archives and Records Administration. Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush remained actively involved with the university, frequently visiting the campus and participating in special events until his death in 2018. He was buried on campus.
With strong support from Rice University and the University of Texas, in May 2001, the Association of American Universities inducted Texas A&M on the basis of the depth of its research and academic programs. As the student population increased, so did the university’s diverse academic offerings. On July 12, 2013, Texas A&M Health Science Center was formally merged into the university. On August 12, 2013, the university acquired the Texas Wesleyan University School of Law and renamed it the Texas A&M University School of Law.
In 2017, the retention of the statue of Lawrence Sullivan “Sul” Ross was in question after other institutions removed statues of former Confederate officers. The Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp and President Michael Young announced the statue would remain on campus because it is not based upon his service in the Confederate Army. Amid the Black Lives Matter movement and vandalism of the statue, attempts in 2020 by a group of students and activists to secure its removal were rebuffed by the university’s administration, other students and alumni, and counter-protestors. The university also confirmed that the removal of the statue would require Texas Congressional approval.
In 2022, Texas A&M University President M. Katherine Banks, implemented university-wide administrative restructuring that involved several changes to academic unit names and branding. The College of Science, the College of Geosciences, and College of Liberal Arts were merged to form the Texas A&M University College of Arts & Sciences. Several academic units underwent a change in name from “college” to “school.” Additionally, the Texas A&M pharmacy unit was renamed the Texas A&M University Irma Lerma Rangel School of Pharmacy.