In 1908 LDS Church leaders from St. George and Salt Lake City undertook plans to establish an academy like those in other Mormon communities. The Salt Lake authorities agreed to allocate $20,000 if the members of the St. George Stake would raise $35,000 to build a college structure. The sacrifices of the people to build the building and to equip it have become legendary. That spirit of community contribution still serves as the inspiration to sustain the present institution.
The college opened in 1911 while the carpenters were still completing the building. Initially it was called the “St. George Stake Academy” but it soon became known as Dixie College. Its initial fort-two students were offered a curriculum which included algebra, domestic art, domestic science, economics, english, geometry, ancient and modern history, physiography, physics, physiology, theology and music.
In 1933 the LDS Church discontinued its support of the College as part of a wider policy to favor state-supported education instead of parochial education. The Great Depression also influenced the decision to close most of the twenty-two church academies. A crucial moment has arrived for Dixie College. College president Joseph K. Nicholes, along with Mathew Bentley and many communities leaders determined that the College should not die and that the State of Utah should become its sponsor. Arthur F. Miles introduced a bill in the Legislature to accomplish that. There was considerable opposition; Governor Henry Blood said he would veto any new appropriation because of the severe economic problems in the state. W.O. Bentley undertook a tedious but effective campaign to convince each senator and representative that Dixie College was essential. His quiet and sincere manner won many friends to the cause. Orval Hafen, Francis J. Bowler, Othello Bowman and other community leaders were influential in the uphill battle. The Governor finally withdrew his objections to state ownership if the bill had no appropriation request attached to it. Thus, the State of Utah took ownership in 1933 with the understanding that the College would receive no funding during the Depression years. The LDS Church, the community, the faculty and students rallied to gather funds and goods in kind to keep the College open for two years until a state appropriation was finally granted.
From 1935 to 1963 Dixie College grew on the St. George City square, expanding from the original building into five other structures clustered together around the St. George Tabernacle and the Woodward School. The college curriculum and the high school courses were taught by the same faculty, creating a four-year school with two years of high school and two of college. This was a period that is fondly remembered today by devoted alumni who talk of the superior teachers such as Ralph Huntsman (Art), Juanita Brooks (English), A. Karl Larson (History), Earl J. Bleak (Music), A.K. Hafen (History), H.L. Reid (History/Political Science), B. Glen Smith (Education), and John T. Woodbury (Phychology/Debate).
In 1951 the state legislature appropriated money for a new gymnasium. President Ellvert Hines and the Dixie Education Association leaders despaired of finding land near the campus and entertained the idea of moving the whole campus. Once that idea surfaced, it took off. The DEA purchased four blocks of land on the east side of town. Through the leadership of Senator Orval Hafen, who was the president of the Utah Senate, the State accepted the land as a gift in return for permission to relocate the campus.
The first building, a new gymnasium, was completed on the new campus in 1957. President Arthur Bruhn then undertook the building of a new campus. In 1963 the Fine Arts Center and a heating plant were completed. It then became his delicate task to separate the high school and college faculties and transfer the latter to the new campus. When they moved into the Fine Arts Building (which housed all departments initially), the enrollment was 355. President Bruhn’s vision was that Dixie College would be a small, quality liberal arts college with strong academic programs in the sciences and liberal arts. he hoped the enrollment would reach 500 students and stay at that level so everyone would know each other.
In the 1970’s Dixie College took on a new dimensions-A vocational curriculum was added. President Ferron Losee led out in this effort and in the construction of new buildings: the trades and industries complex, the liberal arts building, a student center and residence halls. It became clear that the move to the new campus created a new image, making Dixie College attractive not only to Washington County residents but also students from all over the state and from out of state. Enrollment soared to 1,500.
In the 1980s a Continuing Education thrust was expanded to the rapidly growing community. An Institute for Continued Learning involves nearly 500 retired people. An Elderhostel program has taken over the old Dixiana Dormitory in Mid-town and attracts over 1,500 retirees to St. George each year for week-long courses. Re-entry programs, GED high school diplomas, Developmental Education Programs and Short Term Training programs for industry are other programs which signal Dixie’s change from a junior college to a community college.
Under the leadership of Presidents William Rolfe Kerr and Alton Wade, a joint venture was undertaken with Washington County communities to create the Dixie Center, a magnificent convention-culture complex which the College uses. It includes a sports arena, a fine arts center a fitness center and a convention center.
Recently, other structures have expanded the campus to an academic and cultural center that involves all of southern Utah. An expanded science building, the Val A. Browning Learning Resources Center, and the Hansen Stadium provide the most up-to-date facilities. The college now enrolls 2,500 students and is expected to eventually double that number as St. George continues its steady growth into one of America’s most desirable communities. The College is the culture center, being the home of the Southwest Symphony, the Celebrity Concert Series and outstanding intercollegiate athletic teams. Academic programs in the Sciences, Liberal Arts, Fine Arts, Trades and Industries and Physical Education and Continuing Education attract students of all ages to Dixie.