The history of Southern Utah University has been one of constant evolution and perseverance. The school began as a Branch of the State Normal School under supervision by the University of Utah who acted as its mother-institution. Normal schools were created to train high school graduates to be teachers. Their purpose was to establish teaching standards or norms; hence its name. In essence it was a teachers college. The institution was known as Branch Normal School from 1897 to 1913. In 1913 after much lobbying on behalf of Cedar City the Branch Normal School changed to the Branch Agricultural College. This transfer to the BAC meant not only a change in mother-institutions, but also a change in purpose. The Utah Agricultural College located in Logan became the new supervisor and the school was able to offer classes outside the field of teacher education. Agriculture, domestic science, commerce and engineering courses were now offered in addition to the normal school coursework. The institution retained the title of Branch Agricultural College for 40 years.
The college had experienced expanded influence over the growth and development of southern Utah. It had become more than a community colleg; it was a regional educational center. There were many people who had been bothered that the name of the institution was simply the name of the school that governed it. The college needed a name that would more accurately reflect its history and mission. In June 1953 the Board of Trustee’s approved the name change and the Branch Agricultural College officially became the College of Southern Utah. The change of the name did not signify any change in status. In fact, the full official name was College of Southern Utah, Branch of the Utah State Agricultural College. But that title was so cumbersome that it was known simply as the College of Southern Utah.
The school kept growing and progressing. In 1961 the athletic department moved into competitive athletics with four-year schools. It was receiving accreditations and recommendations from governing bodies to move to an independent four-year institution. In each department there were evidences of progression and each was an incremental step in strengthening the petition for expansion. In 1965 with the efforts of Senator Dixie Leavitt, President Royden C. Braithwaite, and Hazen Cooley, the College of Southern Utah became an independent four year liberal arts college. For the first time in its 68 year history the school would have a governing Board of Trustees whose sole concern was the well-being and progress of the institution. The school was now officially a state school and many people believed the name should reflect the school’s status. In 1969 the College of Southern Utah changed its name to Southern Utah State College.
The school grew in size and prestige. After a re-imaging campaign in 1989 the student population grew 22 percent to 3,612 students. It became clear that this state college in the South had become a force in higher education. The mission and role of SUSC aligned with the mission and roles of other institutions nationwide that were operating under the title of university. Research had shown that more credibility was associated with diplomas that said university, which in turn made graduates more marketable. SUSC wanted and deserved that prestige. There was some opposition in the state with people saying that there would be too many universities, that SUSC was too small, or
that their focus wasn’t enough on research, thus not deserving the university title. However with the diligent efforts of Regent Michael Leavitt, Senator Dixie Leavitt, Representative Haze Hunter, Institutional Council Chair Kay McIff, and the untiring efforts of President Gerald Sherratt the mission was accomplished. At 11:15 on February 14, 1990 Governor Norman Bangerter signed legislation into law which changed SUSC to Southern Utah University. The change in name officially took place at midnight on January 1, 1991. A New Year and a new era for the school began in style with community festivities filling the night and the following day. A new age had dawned. After years of sacrifice and service, Cedar City was now home to a university – to the one and only, Southern Utah University.