Pioneering Free Will Baptists envisioned an institution of Christian higher education in Oklahoma, even before statehood. The records of the Indian Territory Association of Free Will Baptists (1905) read: "We believe in encouraging a higher system of education among the Free Will Baptists." The merger of the northern movement of Free Will Baptists (known also as the Randall movement, Free Baptists, or Anti-slavery Baptists) with Northern Baptists in 1911, left a scattered remnant of churches which did not participate in the merger, and those churches lost access to the historic Free Will Baptist schools, such as, Bates College in Maine and Hillsdale College in Michigan. However, the educational void was filled when the Co-operative General Association of Free Will Baptist in the west opened Tecumseh College in Tecumseh, Oklahoma in 1917. The first president was John H. Wolfe, a graduate of Hillsdale College in Michigan. The school was destroyed by fire in 1927 and was never completely rebuilt due to the depression, dust bowl days, World War II, and the Korean Conflict.
During the decades after the fire at Tecumseh College, the churches of Oklahoma continued to keep the higher education dream alive. Numerous resolutions over the decades encouraged support of and participation in the Bible Institute sponsored by the Oklahoma State Association of Free Will Baptist. A series of Bible institutes were taught in the various geographic areas by a rotation through the district associations, but Oklahoma Free Will Baptists had a vision for an institution of higher learning.
These Bible institutes eventually developed into Oklahoma Bible College (OBC). The official launch of OBC began in the basement of the First Free Will Baptist Church in Tulsa in January of 1959. In a quest to find a permanent home for the infant college, it was moved to Wagoner in the fall of 1959, then to the Northwest Free Will Baptist Church in Oklahoma City in the fall of 1961, and finally to the Capitol Hill Free Will Baptist Church of Oklahoma City in the fall of 1962.
On September 13, 1966, the college began operations on the present campus located three miles south of Moore, Oklahoma. An early president of the college, Dr. Don W. Payne (1961-1966), noted that the college began with "no library, no equipment, no facilities, no income, yet had one priceless asset: a company of committed Christians with an urgent sense of mission, persons of purpose and zeal, confident that God is all-sufficient."
Having secured a permanent home for the college, the founding church articulated a vision of higher education which embraced the study of the liberal arts. In 1971, as a symbolic gesture, the governing board renamed the institution Hillsdale Free Will Baptist College in honor of Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan, which began as a Free Will Baptist institution in 1844. (Hillsdale College in Michigan is no longer affiliated with Free Will Baptist.) While Hillsdale Free Will Baptist College continued to educate men and women to support the ministry and mission opportunities of Free Will Baptists worldwide, the enrollment of students in non-ministry degree programs proliferated through the years.
On October 14, 2015, the Oklahoma State Association of Free Will Baptists voted to change the name of Hillsdale Free Will Baptist College to Randall University. The institution was renamed in honor of Pioneer abolitionist preacher Benjamin Randall (February 7, 1749 – October 22, 1808) the founder of the Free Will Baptists in the northeastern United States. The name change became effective on July 1, 2016.
The institution currently has three undergraduate schools (Arts and Sciences, Christian Ministry, and Education) and the School of Professional and Graduate Studies. This structure gives students the opportunity to earn 10 baccalaureate degrees in more than 20 concentrations, plus two master’s degrees: a Master of Arts in Ministry and a Master of Public Administration. In addition, the Teacher Education program has been accredited by the Oklahoma Department of Education to offer degrees in both elementary and secondary education leading to a certified teaching credential.
Though Randall University has been known by several names, the institution continues to have one clear purpose: We help transform students into pioneers by challenging and educating them to live like Jesus.
Additional historical information available in the following documents:
Oklahoma Bible College Newsletter. Vol. 3, No. 1, Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Bible College, 1965.
Oklahoma State Association of Free Will Baptists: The First 100 Years 1908-2008, edited by D. Akin, N. Draper and E. Wade published for the Oklahoma State Association of Free Will Baptists, Historical Commission. Nashville: Randall House Publications, 2009, pages 107-115.
The 1963 Harvester, edited by Charles Kirtley. Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Bible College, 1963, page 5.