The institution was founded in 1887; however, for many years, the curriculum for the institution was geared toward elementary and secondary education. A two-year normal (teacher training) program that provided education beyond high school was added in 1926, and the elementary instruction was phased out. The first ten diplomas were awarded in 1928, when the state accredited the institution as a "standard normal school."
The early catalogs for the institution contain much of the information found in current college catalogs, such as calendars of university dates, lists of trustees, administrative officers and faculty, descriptions of the campus, entrance requirements, fees, general regulations, academic degrees offered, and course descriptions. However, these early catalogs also contain such historically significant items as commencement programs, class rolls, alumni lists, student medals and awards, as well as photographs of athletic teams, graduation classes, and campus buildings.
The earliest existent catalog in the library’s Special Collections is for academic year 1921-1922. This catalog was donated to the University by Judge Early Bullard, Martha Locklear Dial, and Daniel D. Locklear. All three donors are the grandchildren of Preston Locklear, who served on the Board of Trustees for the Croatan Normal School, the name of the institution when it was first founded in 1887. The NC General Assembly changed the name of the institution in 1911 to the Indian Normal School of Robeson County and again, in 1913, to the Cherokee Indian Normal School of Robeson County.