Henderson State University (HSU)

Henderson State University (HSU) is a public, co-educational university located in Arkadelphia (Clark County). HSU is Arkansas’s only public liberal-arts school and is one of the oldest publicly funded universities in Arkansas.

HSU was founded in 1890 as Arkadelphia Methodist College. The name was changed in 1904 to Henderson College to honor Charles Christopher Henderson and to Henderson-Brown College to honor Walter William Brown in 1911.

After thirty-nine years of Methodist control of the institution, the state convention decided to close the institution and combine it with Hendrix College in Conway (Faulkner County). The student body of Henderson-Brown strongly opposed the idea, as did most of the administration and local citizens. After negotiations with state lawmakers, it was decided to turn control of Henderson-Brown over to the state rather than close its doors. Thus, in 1929, the institution in Arkadelphia became known as Henderson State Teachers College. The name of Hendrix was changed to Hendrix-Henderson College and remained so for about two years before once again becoming Hendrix College. According to the state convention, Henderson-Brown no longer existed in Arkadelphia.

After becoming a public institution, Henderson State Teachers College began to expand at a rate never envisioned while it was a Methodist college. Six major buildings were built during the Great Depression alone. Accreditation was attained in 1934, and after World War II, enrollment more than doubled to 500 (in 1929, only 153 students attended the college). Graduate classes were first offered in 1951 through UA, and in 1955, Henderson’s first graduate degree program began. To reflect the change in the focus of the institution, the name was changed to Henderson State College in 1967 and to Henderson State University in 1975. Under the leadership of President D. D. McBrien, the college integrated, admitting its first black students in 1955. One of them, Maurice Horton, went on to become the first African American to earn an undergraduate degree at a primarily white institution in Arkansas, graduating in 1957.

Henderson has an excellent academic record. It has produced several Rhodes, Fulbright, and Rotary International scholars. It serves as Arkansas’s only member of the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges. Glendell Jones was hired in 2012 as president, becoming the first African American to serve as the leader of a non-historically-black university in the state.

Henderson’s athletic teams are known as the Reddies and Lady Reddies. Henderson is classified as a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II school. Henderson along, with the other Arkansas members of the Gulf South Conference, left that organization in 2011 to form a new athletic conference with several schools from Oklahoma. Called the Great American Conference, the conference began play in the 2011–12 school year.

Currently, degree programs are offered through the Matt Locke Ellis College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Business, the School of Education, and the Graduate School. Henderson has its own degree program in nursing, and it also provides the academic program for the Baptist School of Nursing. The university offers the state’s only four-year bachelor of science degree in aviation. In 2013, the university began offering classes in business and education through National Park College in Hot Springs (Garland County); in March 2015, the two institutions formally opened the Hot Springs Downtown Education Center. The enrollment in the fall of 2019 was 3,594, with business administration as a popular undergraduate degree choice. HSU offers more than eighty majors and degree programs and has more than ninety student organizations.

In 2019, HSU experienced a budget deficit of $6 million and had to borrow money from the state’s Budget Stabilization Trust Fun. In response, state lawmakers suggested that HSU consider joining a larger university system. On July 19, 2019, HSU signed a memorandum of understanding with Arkansas State University (ASU), whereby ASU would provide various operations support services for the remainder of the year. That same day, Jones, who had overseen the spending that put HSU in its fiscal hole, resigned as HSU president, and Elaine Martin Kneebone was appointed acting president of HSU. On October 24, 2019, the HSU board of trustees voted to join the ASU System, approving a merger agreement and transition plan on November 21, 2019. The ASU board followed suit with approval on December 6, 2019. The merger plan approved by the state legislature, and signed into law by Governor Asa Hutchinson on February 1, 2021, allowed HSU to retain its name and independent appropriation while eliminating its board of trustees.

Charles Ambrose was named chancellor of HSU in November 2021, taking over from interim chancellor Jim Borsig. In February 2022, Ambrose announced that one-day-per-week staff furloughs would begin at the end of the month, and that university leadership was looking at eliminating certain staff and programs, as a means of stabilizing the budget. On May 5, 2022, the Arkansas State University System Board voted unanimously to eliminate twelve programs (including such basics as history and biology) and eighty-eight faculty positions at HSU. The move improved the fiscal situation, but enrollment declined.

Ambrose announced his retirement in late July 2023, and Bob Fisher was named interim chancellor. On November 1, 2023, Dr. Trey Berry, then serving as the president of Southern Arkansas University, was announced as the new chancellor.

For additional information:
Bledsoe, Bennie Gene. Henderson State University: Education since 1890. 2 vols. Houston, TX: D. Armstrong Co., 1986.

Hale-Shelton, Debra. “Program Cuts Coming to Cash-Strapped Henderson State.” Arkansas Nonprofit News Network, April 8, 2022. https://arknews.org/index.php/2022/04/08/program-cuts-coming-to-cash-strapped-henderson-state/ (accessed June 15, 2023).

Hall, John G. Henderson State College: The Methodist Years. Arkadelphia, AR: Henderson State College Alumni Association, 1974.

Henderson State University. http://www.hsu.edu (accessed June 15, 2023).

Sesser, David. “The School with a Heart: Henderson State University, 1929–1959.” EdD diss., University of Arkansas at Little Rock, 2019.

———. The School with a Heart: Henderson State University at 125. Arkadelphia, AR: Henderson State University, 2017.

David Sesser
Nevada County Depot and Museum


No comments on this entry yet.