The mission of the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education is to promote inquiry and practices that foster democratic life and that are fundamental to the interrelated activities of teaching, research and practice in the multi-disciplinary field of education.
The first education classes at the University of Oklahoma began in 1901, with one course in educational principles and one course in education history. As new residents poured into Oklahoma both before and after statehood in 1907, the demand for capable teachers led to the university establishing a full School of Teaching in 1909. The school was part of the College of Arts and Sciences.
In 1920, the School of Teaching was given independent status, with a two-year general curriculum. Six years later, Ellsworth Collings became dean, a position he held for almost 20 years. In honor of his service to the university, the College of Education building is named after him.
The school became a stand-alone college in 1929. Four-year undergraduate degrees were offered in elementary teaching, secondary teaching, school supervision and school administration. In 1931, the college awarded its first doctorate in education. School supervision and school administration became graduate programs only in 1933.
The university experienced a surge in enrollment and construction after World War II, and the College of Education was part of that. Its current building on the South Oval was completed in 1951.
The College played a supporting role in one of the U.S. Supreme Court's most important rulings. In 1950, the Supreme Court ruled that George McLaurin, an African-American retired educator, had the right to pursue a graduate degree at the College alongside white students. McLaurin had been admitted to the College but had to attend separately from white students, as required by Oklahoma's "equal-but-separate" law, which he successfully challenged. McLaurin's case was the climax of the NAACP's campaign between 1930 and 1950 to overturn the separate-but-equal doctrine in graduate and professional schools. This laid the groundwork for the landmark 1954 decision, Brown v. the Board of Education, that ended school segregation.
Today the College seeks to extend the legacy of George McLaurin and others by providing the best possible education for its students, as explicitly stated in the College's mission "to promote inquiry and practices that foster democratic life and that are fundamental to the interrelated activities of teaching, research and practice in the multidisciplinary field of education."
In 2005, the College celebrated its 75th anniversary. To honor its rich history, an Alumni Hall of Fame was established and the annual Celebration of Education honored "75 Who Made a Difference," the inaugural class of hall of fame inductees. In 2019, a 90th anniversary celebration took place with alumni and friends of the college joining in to celebrate its rich and expanding history.
In October 2008, it was announced that the College of Education had received a $8 million gift from H.E. (Gene) Rainbolt in honor of his late wife, Jeannine Rainbolt. Because of that contribution, the OU Board of Regents unanimously voted to rename the college in Rainbolt's honor. Part of Rainbolt's gift, with other gifts and university funding, was used to pay for a $9.5 million renovation to Collings Hall. Construction, which concluded in summer of 2010, reconstructed the building's facade and add an additional 15,000 feet of classroom space. It was the building's first major building project since 1958.
The College offers degree programs that prepare professional educators for the classroom as well as for careers in diverse fields such as administration, professional counseling, literacy and advocacy. Educational programs are accredited and approved by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, Oklahoma State Department of Education and American Psychological Association as well as several professional associations for specific subject areas.
The College is home to more than a dozen centers and institutes that directly help Oklahomans in their daily lives, including the Institute for Child Development, Early Childhood Education Institute, K20 Center for Educational and Community Renewal, Oklahoma Writing Project and Zarrow Center for Learning Enrichment.