The oldest university in continuous existence on the High Plains of Texas, Wayland began as the dream of pioneers who respected the life-altering value of education. In 1906, the Staked Plains Baptists Association received and acted upon a proposal to establish a school. Dr. and Mrs. James Henry Wayland offered $10,000 and 25 acres of land if the Association and the citizens of Plainview would raise an additional $40,000. The Association and the city accepted both the proposal and the challenge and in 1908 applied for a charter from the State of Texas for the Wayland Literary and Technical Institute.

Construction began on the first two buildings on the Plainview campus in 1909, and Dr. I. E. Gates became president of Wayland, which was then literally only "a hole in the ground." Although the main administration building was incomplete, classes began in September 1910 in adjacent Matador Hall. From primary grades through junior college, 241 students enrolled that first term in the school whose name was changed the same year to Wayland Baptist College.

The second decade of the century saw slow but significant growth. In 1911, Wayland graduated its first student, and the administration building was completed. By 1913, the senior class had grown to four, and Wayland graduated its first female. The following year, Wayland became one of the correlated schools affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, a relationship which has existed ever since. By 1915, Dr. Gates believed the school was firmly established; and he resigned to return to the pastorate. Dr. Orren L. Hailey, then pastor of Plainview's First Baptist Church, became president in 1915, announcing his intention to make Wayland the best junior college in the state. In 1916 when he resigned to return to the pastorate, Wayland graduated twenty students, and Matador Hall was being completed as the women's residence hall.

Dr. R. E. L. Farmer, former president of Canadian Academy and an area pastor, followed him as president in 1916. During his tenure, enrollment increased to 300 in the school where there was "nothing shallow but the water." Under his leadership, Wayland took the unprecedented step of offering summer classes. Because of World War I, the college required military training of all male students for the duration of the conflict. Dr. Farmer served as president until his resignation in August 1918 to raise money for the school; he died in October 1918 in the influenza epidemic that swept the world.

Dr. Elmer B. Atwood, executive secretary of the New Mexico Baptist Convention, became president in 1919 and served until 1923. During his tenure, Wayland addressed its debt problems and broadened its appeal to students beyond the plains of Texas, especially to New Mexico, which did not have a Baptist school of its own. In his administration, Wayland concentrated on being "a Christian school with high ideals and worthy standards."

Wayland's fifth president, Dr. George W. McDonald served the institution as a professor of mathematics and dean of the college prior to being named president. His twenty-three-year tenure saw some of the most challenging days in Wayland's existence. J. Lindsey Nunn Gymnasium was added, to bring to three the total number of campus buildings. In 1926, Wayland was admitted to membership in the American Association of Junior Colleges. With the Stock Market crash in 1929, the Great Depression had a devastating impact on the college. Enrollment declined, and the bank that held all of the school's assets failed, leaving the college no money for its expenses. To continue to educate students, the administration and faculty agreed to serve without pay, trusting God to meet their needs. Thanks to the providence of God and their willingness to make personal sacrifices, they enabled Wayland to remain open at a time when so many private schools failed.

Dr. McDonald retired in 1947, and the Board of Trustees named Dr. James W. "Bill" Marshall to succeed him as president. Formerly the personnel secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention's Foreign Mission Board, Dr. Marshall led Wayland to initiate an international student program that resulted in "Wayland of the Plains" becoming "Wayland of the World." During Dr. Marshall's tenure, Wayland had a higher percentage of international students than any other American college or university. In 1948, Wayland became a four-year college. McDonald Hall for men and Agnes Mays Hall for women were added, and Slaughter Hall became the school's cafeteria. In a very controversial decision, Dr. Marshall banned smoking by any Wayland student; and enrollment was higher than ever the following fall. He secured sponsors for the women's basketball team, which became known as the Hutcherson Flying Queens - a team that subsequently has won more games than any other women's collegiate team nationwide. Wayland began distance learning in 1948 with a language institute in Guadalajara, Mexico. In 1951, the college took the unprecedented step of voluntarily admitting black students on an equal basis with whites. This action made Wayland the first four-year liberal arts college in the former Confederate states to be integrated voluntarily and predated the Supreme Court's decision banning segregation in schools by three years.

Upon Dr. Marshall's resignation, Dr. A. Hope Owen, then pastor of Plainview's First Baptist Church, became president in 1953. He served for ten years, developing a master plan called "Design for a Decade" to guide the development of the college's physical plant.

Numerous buildings were erected during his tenure: three women's dormitories (Ferguson Hall in 1954, Fleming Hall in 1956, and Owen Hall in 1961), another men's residence hall (Brotherhood in 1957), Van Howeling Library in 1957, and the Flores Bible Building in 1959. Married student apartments - Collier, Goodpasture, and Allison-Conkwright halls - were added in 1960 and 1961, and the Home Life Building was completed in 1962. During Dr. Owen's term, Wayland secured full accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 1956 and the approval of the Texas Education Agency to certify teachers. Finally, during his tenure, Mr. and Mrs. Shelby Flores of Tulia made the largest single gift that any Baptist college had ever received prior to that point when they donated more than twenty-seven sections of farm, ranch, and oil-bearing land to the school.

Upon Dr. Owen's retirement in 1963, the Board of Trustees named Dr. Roy C. McClung, then pastor of Plainview's First Baptist Church, as Wayland's eighth president. He served for seventeen years in which Wayland's physical expansion continued dramatically. The Wayland Bowl, subsequently named Hilliard Field, opened in 1965 to provide facilities for track and field events and now soccer as well. Fleming-Mays Tower connected Bessie Fleming and Agnes Mays Halls in 1966; and Atwood Hall, the first unit of Caprock Hall for men, opened in 1967. Harral Auditorium was dedicated in 1968, with a 58-rank Wicks pipe organ added the next year, and music and arts wings added in 1973 and 1980, respectively. In 1970, Moody Science Building was dedicated. The college's physical education program and the men's and women's basketball teams found a new home in Hutcherson Physical Education Center, which opened in 1971. Completed in 1976, the Museum of the Llano Estacado was a Bicentennial project. In 1979, Brown Chapel opened, and the Division of Business moved into the newly remodeled Nunn Building, formerly the gymnasium. In 1980, Marshall Hall opened as part of the Caprock residence complex for men; and construction began on McClung Center to house the bookstore, cafeteria, and student services offices.

Dr. McClung's administration included more than physical growth of the Plainview campus. Wayland's enrollment topped one thousand for the first time. The college added the Bachelor of Science in Occupational Education degree in 1973, specifically designed for nontraditional, full time working adult students. The college began its first external campus experiences since 1948, with the advent of degree programs at Lubbock in 1972, at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls in 1974, Amarillo in 1976, and Honolulu, Hawaii in 1979.

Dr. David Jester became Wayland's ninth president in 1981. During his tenure, Wayland moved from college to university status. McClung University Center opened in the fall of 1982, and Wayland began offering graduate courses as well as lifelong learning programs. Distant campuses opened at San Antonio in 1984 and at Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska in 1985.

Following Dr. Jester's resignation in 1987, Dr. Glenn Barnett, formerly vice-president at Texas Tech University, served as interim president for two years. During his tenure, he restructure the debt and laid the foundation for a stronger faculty voice with the establishment of the Faculty Assembly.

The Board named Dr. Lanny Hall president in 1989. He served just under two years, before resigning to assume the presidency of Hardin-Simmons University.

In 1991, Dr. Wallace Davis became Wayland's eleventh president. His ten-year administration saw enormous growth for the university. In 1996, the J. E. and L. E. Mabee Learning Resources Center opened. Housing the university's library and the Malouf Abraham Art Gallery, the building also features the Kaltwasser Flame, the largest back-lit faceted stained glass sculpture in the world.

The university opened distant campuses at Phoenix (1991) and Sierra Vista, Arizona (1997), and at Clovis (1997) and Albuquerque, New Mexico (1999). Wayland began an educational partnership with Kenya Baptist Theological College in 1999 to offer classes for its students on their campus near Nairobi. Also in 1999, the remodeled Van Howeling Educational Complex became home to the university's programs for teacher-training, academic achievement, and Baptist Student Ministries. David and Myrt Wilder Baseball Complex was dedicated the same year. In 2000, Wayland achieved system status, with Dr. Davis becoming chancellor. By the end of his tenure, Plainview student enrollment had increased to almost 1100, and enrollment at the external campuses exceeded 5000.

Dr. Paul Armes became Wayland's twelfth president in 2001. An additional external campus opened at Altus, Oklahoma, and the university began offering classes through the virtual campus that same year. By 2003, system-wide enrollment exceeded 6000, to make Wayland the fourth-largest Southern Baptist university in the United States.

New teaching sites have been opened in Tucson, Arizona and Enid, Oklahoma.

In 2002, Wayland purchased a building three blocks to the west of the campus which was remodeled into the Dorothy McCoy Honors Dorm. The University also bought the structure owned by Trinity United Methodist Church in May, 2003 to house the Office of Advancement, Alumni, Web Services, the virtual campus administrative offices, and Baptist Student Ministries. Construction of the new Pete and Nelda Laney Student Activities center was completed in late 2007, and the facility was opened for use in January of 2008.

Over the last several years, major renovations have been completed in Caprock men’s dorm, Owen Hall, Fleming-Mays Tower and Ferguson Hall women’s dormitories. Designated Pioneer Hall, the president’s former home was remodeled to house male students.

In 2008, the Virtual Campus program of Wayland Baptist University became the largest campus in the Wayland system in terms of raw head count.
A new statue of Dr. James Henry Wayland, the University’s founder, was dedicated in the fall of 2008 to kick off the university’s centennial celebration.

Jimmy Dean Hall, which houses 350 students, opened in August 2012.
The university began a men’s and women’s wrestling program in 2010, the only collegiate program in the state of Texas. After an absence of 70 years, football returned to campus in the fall of 2011, with the first games scheduled for the 2012-13 academic year.

Founded and maintained by pioneers unafraid of and undaunted by challenges, Wayland continues to be a pioneer in the field of higher education, leading students of all ages to integrate faith and learning in their lives, to be productive members of their communities, and to serve God and humanity.