Early UT correspondance courses
Photo courtesy of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin

You’ve Got Mail


Before e-mail and the Internet ushered in a new world of distance learning tools and opportunities, Continuing & Innovative Education (CIE) relied on the venerable U.S. Postal Service for distance learning. Correspondence courses have been at the core of our division since its very beginning 100 years ago. Our communication methods may have changed since 1910, but our mission has stayed the same—to extend the rich educational resources of the university to the people of Texas and beyond.

When the division (then called the “UT Extension Department”) began, registration for a correspondence course could be for credit or non-credit and there were no admission requirements. The fee for each correspondence course was $7, payable in advance of the class. By 1911, the department was offering 152 correspondence courses in 22 subjects including Agriculture, Business, English, History, Public Speaking, Mathematics and Sociology. In its first fifty years, the “Correspondence Teaching” program expanded from 229 course enrollments in 1910 to 4,830 course enrollments in 1959-1960.

In his history of “Extension Education at The University of Texas 1909-1951,” Thomas Hall Shelby, former Dean of the Division of Extension, writes that the correspondence student “must think for himself; he must develop initiative, self-reliance, and, above all, perseverance. If he passes his work, he is strengthened and is on the road to independent study. For him, education is more likely to become a life-long process.”

That early characterization of a correspondence student is still applicable to today’s distance learning students taking courses with CIE’s PETEX, UT Online High School, the Migrant Student Program, and University Extension. All of these programs and divisions are rooted in providing distance learning opportunities that continue CIE’s mission into the 21st century.