In 1937, Thurman J. White came to the University of Oklahoma as an instructor in what was then called the extension division. White had a passion for adult education, believing all adults should have access to continual education and training to keep up with the increasing demands of social and technological change. White’s vision and leadership eventually led to the formation of the Oklahoma Center for Continuing Education.
In 1957, White secured one of 12 grants given by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for creating university-based residential conference centers around the world. The grant, the largest the university had received to date, was used to build the Thurman J. White Forum and other structures that, when completed in 1962, formed the Oklahoma Center for Continuing Education. As OCCE developed and expanded, the Association for Continuing Higher Education and the International Association of Continuing Education Hall of Fame were also added.
During his 43 years at OU, White worked to develop programs that benefitted non-traditional learners throughout the state, while promoting advanced learning opportunities for private businesses, government agencies, and other institutions.
White’s vision continues to evolve. Today, OU Outreach College of Continuing Education is a lifelong learning organization dedicated to helping individuals, businesses, groups, and communities transform themselves through knowledge. In addition to OCCE, White’s contributions to OU include programs that still exist as part of OU Outreach, including the Southwest Center for Human Relations Studies.
Nationally recognized for its pioneering efforts in continuing education, today OU Outreach continues Thurman White’s mission of transforming lives through lifelong learning.
Thurman White's legacy spans several areas. As a contributor to the theoretical base of adult education, he conceptualized the development and design of the Oklahoma Center for Continuing Education. The center's design turned theory—that architectural design can significantly influence communication and learning—into practice. As a contributor to the advancement of the field of adult education as a profession, he served as president of both the Adult Education Association of the USA and the National University Extension Association. He also edited Adult Education, a professional journal, for 10 years. He was also responsible for conceptualizing the development of several nontraditional degree and non-degree programs, including the establishment of the Southwest Center for Human Relations.
He promulgated the acceptance of lifelong learning as a part of the higher education enterprise by participating in numerous activities of the American Council on Education (ACE). He served as Chairman of the ACE Commission on Educational Credit, the ACE Commission on Academic Affairs, and the ACE Committee for Financing of Education for Adult Students. In addition, he served on the President's National Advisory Council on Extension and Continuing Education and the Department of Defense Advisory Committee on Education in the Armed Forces.
The OU Outreach Division of Public and Community Service (PCS) is a recognized leader in providing education and training that promotes social change and civic engagement. PCS prepares individuals and organizations to interact with communities to achieve social and economic growth and justice. We partner with public agencies and organizations to build healthy, safe, and sustainable communities, create a more fair and democratic society, and increase civic involvement.