Historical marker #1837 in Whitley County notes the founding and expansion of the University of the Cumberlands. Prior to 2005, the University of the Cumberlands was called Cumberland College.
Cumberland College was originally founded under the name of the Williamsburg Institute. The academic institution’s charter was signed on April 6, 1888, and the school was dedicated on January 1, 1889. Its formation was a product of a fundraising campaign spearheaded by the Mt. Zion Association of Baptists. Located in the town of Williamsburg in southeastern Kentucky, it is surrounded by mountains. From its start, the Williamsburg Institute sought to bring affordable education to the Appalachian region of Kentucky. In 1913, the school changed its name to Cumberland College.
The first students to take classes began their studies on January 7, 1889. Starting out, the school only employed one administrator and two instructors. As it expanded, the institute acquired Highland College in 1907. In 1918, the college became a two-year institution. Cumberland College phased out their elementary and high school levels as the region’s educational offerings improved in the 1930s and 1940s.
The school first received accreditation from Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 1931. In 1959, Cumberland College added a third and fourth year ending its time as a junior college. The first four-year program students graduated in 1961. In addition, several graduate programs were added in 1981. Fulfilling the school’s original mission, in the 1980s, more Appalachian students enrolled in Cumberland College than any other private institution in the state