The 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act established the U.S. territory of Kansas, opening the territory for settlement. Shortly thereafter, the Constitution of 1855 was adopted, bearing the intent of a university system, reading “The General Assembly may take measures for the establishment of a university.”

Kansas was admitted as the 34th state to the United States on January 29, 1861.

By 1863, the Legislature had created the first public university, Kansas State Normal School in Emporia, followed in the same year by The University in Lawrence and the Agricultural College in Manhattan. A 1900 Congressional Act provided abandoned military reservation land at Fort Hays to the State for the western branch of the Emporia Teachers College, known as the Western Branch State Normal School, and in 1903, the Legislature established the Normal Training Auxiliary of the Emporia Normal School in Pittsburg.

With five state institutions of higher education, Governor Walter Stubbs appointed a three-member committee in 1911 to study the state schools, colleges and universities, each of which was governed by its own separate board, and to make a recommendation regarding the creation of a single controlling board for all five.

In 1913, after much discussion and debate, the Legislature and the Governor settled on the creation of a centralized three-member Board of Administration to govern the five state schools of higher education. The members of this Board of Administration were appointed by the Governor and confirmed in Executive Session by the Senate. All could be from the same political party and all could be from the same geographic location. They were each paid the sum of $3,500 per year for their service and had expenses covered. They were charged with overseeing business operations at the universities, providing a biennial report to the Legislature, and hiring the chief executives of the institutions.

By 1917, a new Board of Administration was created, comprised of the Governor and three members appointed by the Governor. This new Board of Administration took control of seven educational institutions (the five state schools as well as the School for the Deaf and the School for the Blind) as well as the penal, correctional, and charitable institutions of the State. Board members continued to receive a salary of $3,500 per year and were given the authority to hire one paid secretary. New provisions for the Board also set forth methods for contracting with vendors, drafting policy, setting guidelines for chief executives and business officers of the institutions, and providing purpose and direction for the Board.

Following an episode of unprecedented political meddling in higher education by the Governor and Board of Administration, in 1925 the Legislature again separated control of the state higher education system from the other state institutions and created the first entity equivalent to the modern-day Board of Regents. This was a body of nine citizen members, appointed by the Governor, who served without pay, met on a statutory schedule, and governed the five state institutions of higher education. This act dissolved the Board of Administration. Just eight years later, responding to sentiment that the Board was not aggressive enough in support of the schools, the 1933 Legislature adopted a resolution directing the Board of Regents to make a “thorough survey” of the five state institutions of higher education. The purpose of this study was to help develop a plan for coordination and unification. The survey covered topics from state funding ($2.80 per capita in 1932) to the history and purposes of the institutions themselves. The results of this survey helped to spur the 1939 changes to the Board.

In 1939, the Legislature recreated the nine-member Board of Regents as a bi-partisan board, each member of which would serve a staggered four-year term. Also at this time, the Legislature added to the Board’s jurisdiction the State School for the Deaf and the State School for the Blind, as well as Western University and Kansas Vocational School, two Black schools. The Governor was to appoint members to the Board and the Senate would confirm them. Five of the members were appointed from the same party as that receiving the highest votes for Secretary of State, while the remaining four were from the party receiving the second highest votes. This legislation also gave the Board the power to appoint and remove executive heads, deans, professors, teachers, or other employees at the institutions it governed.

The Educational Building Fund, which receives receipts from a 1.0 statewide mill levy on property, was authorized by a constitutional amendment in 1918, but the first levy was not made until 1942. The Educational Building Fund levy has been at least 1.0 mill since 1955. In 1964, Wichita State University was brought under the Board of Regents, bringing the number of state universities governed by the Board to six.

Kansas voters approved a Constitutional amendment in 1966 to provide for a nine-member Board of Regents and its supervision and control of public institutions of higher education. The Kansas Constitution now requires that members of the Board be appointed by the Governor, confirmed by the Senate, serve four-year, staggered terms of office, and be representative of each congressional district.The 1974 Session of the Legislature made provision for a payment of $35 per meeting day stipend for the members of all state boards, including the Board of Regents.Just one year later, in 1975, the responsibility for administering student assistance and federal programs was transferred from the State Education Commission to the Board of Regents. Additionally, the Legislature enacted a statute calling for the creation of the Students’ Advisory Committee, consisting of the president of each state university’s student senate. This committee was established to provide student representation at Board meetings and for consultation with the Regents on policies and issues relating to students.

During 1976, oversight of the Kansas Technical Institute at Salina was transferred from the State Board of Education to the Board of Regents and in 1988 the name of the Technical Institute was changed to the Kansas College of Technology. By 1991, the Kansas College of Technology had merged with Kansas State University and renamed the Kansas State University-Salina, College of Technology.

In 1996, the Legislature introduced the concept of Qualified Admissions, requiring that students seeking admission to the six state universities meet one of three requirements or be admitted as an exception to these requirements.

The next notable change to the Board of Regents occurred in 1999 with the passage of Senate Bill No. 345. This bill recreated the Board of Regents into what it is today, a body that governs the state universities, supervises the community colleges, technical colleges, and Washburn University, and coordinates all postsecondary education in Kansas. Senate Bill 345 also transferred responsibility for adult basic education, GED testing and regulation of private and out-of-state higher education institutions from the Department of Education to the Board of Regents.

The KAN-ED Act, the purpose of which is to provide for a broadband technology-based network to which schools, libraries and hospitals may connect for broadband internet access and intranet access for distance learning, was enacted in 2001, charging the Board with creation of such a network.

By 2008, plans were finalized for the last of the area vocational and area vocational-technical schools to either merge or affiliate with existing public institutions of higher education or seek individual accreditation as a technical college. The resulting Board of Regents system included six state universities, nineteen community colleges, six technical colleges and one municipal university.

In 2009, House Bill 2197 transferred the authority to set Qualified Admissions requirements for the six state universities from the Legislature to the Board of Regents.