History of C of O
The College of the Ozarks began as a dream. In 1905, young Presbyterian missionary James Forsythe was assigned to serve the region that encompassed Sparta, Mansfield, and Forsyth, Missouri. When he arrived, he saw that the young people in that region were in desperate need of education. Forsythe expressed to the Missouri Synod of the Presbyterian Church his dream of a school that would provide a quality, Christian education to young people who would, in exchange, work to help the school operate.
Forsythe’s dream came true in 1906 when the Synod established The School of the Ozarks and was granted a charter by the State of Missouri for the purpose of “providing Christian education for youth of both sexes, especially those found worthy but who are without sufficient means to procure such training.” By the end of the first term, the enrollment at The School was 180 with 36 boarders.
Originally, the purpose of The School was to provide an opportunity for a high school education for young people of the Ozarks plateau. This mission was pursued without significant change until 1956. By this time, improved transportation, better communications, and the increasing number of consolidated school districts had made a high school education readily accessible to most young people in the Ozarks area. Consequently, in 1956, The School of the Ozarks added two years of junior college to the four-year high school program. The two-year program was initially accredited by the University of Missouri and in 1961 was accredited by the North Central Association. This format continued until 1964 when the Board of Trustees and the faculty voted to expand the two-year program into a four-year liberal arts program.
The four-year college program of The School of the Ozarks, which began classes for juniors in September 1965, was given preliminary accreditation by the North Central Association that same year. Preliminary accreditation was continued in 1969. In August 1971, The School was granted full-accreditation by the North Central Association.
The transition from high school to junior college to four-year liberal arts college brought about many changes. The years after 1967, when the last secondary school class and the first college class graduated, were a time of great expansion. Approximately ten new areas of study (majors) were developed, the faculty doubled, and the geographical range of the students broadened.
In 1990, the Board of Trustees approved changing the name of “The School of the Ozarks” to “College of the Ozarks.” Since 1989, the College has been named one of the "Top Baccalaureate Colleges in the Midwest" and one of the “Best Buys” by U.S. News & World Report magazine each year. C of O has also been named to the Templeton Honor Roll for Character Building Colleges and to the Templeton Honor Roll for Excellence in Free Enterprise Teaching. In addition, C of O has been listed as a “Best Buy” by Barron’s Guide and Money Magazine, a “Best Value” and "Stone Cold Sober School" by The Princeton Review, "Top College" and "Best Buy" by Forbes, and has been recognized by numerous other national publications.
College of the Ozarks has maintained its reputation for excellence. In 1994, the Missouri Department of Education awarded C of O a “#1” ranking—the only such ranking ever given by the Department—in recognition of the College’s commitment to its Mission.
The distinctive tradition of the Work Education Program and the College’s commitment to encouraging academic, Christian, cultural, vocational, and patriotic growth in its students have attracted and continue to attract famous guests, including U.S. Presidents and First Ladies, U.S. Commanding Generals, Prime Ministers, and other dignitaries who recognize the College’s uniqueness. Today, the College offers degrees in more than 40 academic areas and student enrollment is approximately 1,400. College of the Ozarks continues to offer quality academic programs, bringing to fruition James Forsythe’s dream of offering “the best intellectual training under the best possible moral and Christian auspices.”