The University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) was chartered on March 16, 1962, as the College of the Virgin Islands — a publicly funded, coeducational, liberal arts institution — by Act No. 862 of the Fourth Legislature of the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to that law, UVI's cornerstone objective is to provide for "...the stimulation and utilization of the intellectual resources of the people of the Virgin Islands and the development of a center of higher learning whereby and wherefrom the benefits of culture and education may be extended throughout the Virgin Islands."
The enabling legislation was the result of at least two years of preparation and planning. In 1960, the V.I. Legislature created a temporary body called the Virgin Islands College Commission, comprised of interested island residents, to survey the need for a territorial college. In April 1961, Governor Ralph M. Paiewonsky pledged to establish such a college in his inaugural address. And in July 1961, Governor Paiewonsky hosted a Governor's Conference on Higher Education, at which twenty educators observed and analyzed the Virgin Islands' educational scene, and made recommendations for the creation of the College of the Virgin Islands (CVI).
The first campus opened on St. Thomas in July 1963, on 175 acres donated by the federal government. The first Board of Trustees took office in August 1963. In 1964, the college founded a second campus on St. Croix, on 130 acres also donated by the federal government.
CVI began by offering only associate of arts degrees. In 1967 it added bachelor's degree programs in liberal arts and education. The first baccalaureate degrees were awarded in 1970, and in 1976 the college awarded its first master's degrees in education. Two years later, master's degree programs in business administration and public administration were instituted on both campuses.
In 1972, the College of the Virgin Islands was awarded Land-Grant status by the U.S. Congress. This allowed for the establishment of an Agricultural Experiment Station and a Cooperative Extension Service. Since then, many other programs and services have been added. These include the Reichhold Center for the Arts, the Eastern Caribbean Center, the William P. MacLean Marine Science Center, the Sports and Fitness Center and the Virgin Islands Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (VI-EPSCoR).
In 1986, the College of the Virgin Islands was renamed the University of the Virgin Islands to reflect the growth and diversification of its academic curricula, community and regional services, and research programs. That same year, the United States Congress named UVI one of America's Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU); therefore, it holds the distinction of being the only HBCU outside of the continental United States.
Dr. David Hall began his tenure as president of the University of the Virgin Islands on August 1, 2009. Dr. LaVerne E. Ragster had served as the fourth president of the University of the Virgin Islands since 2002, succeeding Dr. Orville Kean who had served since 1990. Dr. Kean succeeded Dr. Arthur A. Richards, who became president in 1980. Lawrence C. Wanlass was appointed the first president of the College of the Virgin Islands in 1963 and remained in office until 1980.
UVI is a public liberal arts-based Masters II university, a Historically Black College and University, and a Land-Grant institution. Today, UVI has a combined enrollment of approximately 2,500 undergraduate and graduate students on its two campuses. It continues to offer a high-quality, affordable liberal arts education and professional programs in a culturally diverse environment. The University's objective is to be recognized as the leading American institution of higher learning in the Caribbean.
In 2012, the University celebrated its 50th Golden Jubilee with an extensive series of events and activities.