Our Heritage & Campus History

The University of Virginia’s College at Wise has a rich cultural history and academic heritage as a respected institute for higher learning in southwest Virginia. Situated on 396 beautiful acres in rural Wise County, it is a living example of the determination and perseverance of the Southwest Virginia region.


UVa-Wise Milestones

William Thompson

Our Heritage:
The Founding of UVa-Wise

Before UVa-Wise was founded, there were no public colleges in Virginia anywhere west of Radford. As a result, postsecondary and higher education was out of reach for individuals and families living in Virginia’s mountainous western and southwestern regions.

After local residents made a case to the University of Virginia for establishing a college in Wise, the school opened in 1954 on farm property with 109 full-time students. Two-thirds of those students were Korean War veterans.

The Commonwealth of Virginia supported the university – originally called Clinch Valley College of the University of Virginia – by offering $5,000 to open, staff, and operate the two-year school for one year. Another $5,000 was appropriated for the second year, if the school succeeded through the first.

The college, an ambitious dream of local citizens in a poor farming community, survived its first year and has continued to thrive ever since. In 1966, legislation allowed the school to offer four-year degrees and in 1999, the college name was officially changed to The University of Virginia’s College at Wise. UVa-Wise celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2004 and we look forward to continuing its college story for many years to come.

Pictured above: William A. Thompson, one of the founders of Clinch Valley College

Old black and white photo of original founders

Campus History: UVa-Wise’s First Graduating Class

After admitting its first class of 109 full-time students in 1954, Clinch Valley College continued as a two-year university for several years. Members of the first graduating class went on to become some of the region’s most successful and highly-regarded professionals.

As time went on, more and more graduates expressed their preference to stay closer to home to complete their baccalaureate degrees. Thus, the college began the process of becoming a four-year senior institution. The first Bachelor of Arts (BA) degrees were granted in June 1970; Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees followed in 1973; and the first Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees were bestowed in 1996.

Jefferson statue

The UVa-Wise College Story Today:
A Broadened Outreach

Today, the college is committed to promoting student and faculty exchanges and to expanding our students’ understanding and appreciation of communities near and far. What was once a small, rural, two-year college is now a widely recognized, nationally competitive university that operates on a global scale.

UVa-Wise has established sister institution agreements with a number of prestigious international universities for the mutual betterment of our students and our world through education.

Below is a list of our current sister-schools:

Germany: Technical University of Dortmund

Luxembourg: University of Luxembourg

Spain: University of Seville and University of Huelva

Austria: Pädagogische Hochschule Niederösterreich

United Kingdom: Glamorgan University (recently merged with University of South Wales)

Mexico: Instituto Tecnológico de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey – Campus Saltillo*

We are always seeking to further develop our college’s heritage of excellence and establish more cooperative programs with higher learning institutions from across the world, which provide significant benefits for students and faculty, as well as the campus at large.

*Our partnership with this school is currently inactive due to U.S. State Department warnings.