St. Mary’s University was established in 1998 under St. Mary’s University General Educational Development PLC with its head office in Hawassa and a branch in Addis Ababa.
It commenced its operations in the same year with 33 students in Hawassa and 37 in Addis Ababa, studying in three departments (Departments of Accounting, Marketing, and Law). Later in the same year, 49 students joined the Dilla Branch, 90 kilometers from Hawassa, which is found in the southern part of Ethiopia. In the last quarter of 1998, it admitted more than 300 students in Addis Ababa (Lideta Campus located opposite the Federal High Court) and 25 students in Dilla.
Envisaging the trend of development of the conventional mode of learning, it moved its head office to Addis Ababa, Lideta Campus, in 1999 and opened the Department of Secretarial Science and Office Management (SSOM). With a view to broaden its programs, the Department of Computer Science (initially offering diploma programs) was put in place in September 2000 and the degree program in Law was initiated for the first time in the same year.
The year 2000 saw the plan of setting up a dual-mode private higher education institution become a reality - St. Mary’s University being a pioneer in the sector. In March of the same year, the Distance Education Division (DED) was launched focusing on Business and Law fields of study. Since 2001, the Division has been making a speedy growth targeting distance learners in the fields of Teacher Education - Amharic, English, Mathematics, Geography and History.
After a few years of concerted and coordinated effort, it institution began to show remarkable success. Consequently, in preparation for the September 2002 registration, a new compound was acquired on rent basis at Maichew Square beside the Wabe Shebelle Hotel, where currently the regular and extension undergraduate programs are located.
The last quarter of 2002 was spent on restructuring previous offices as well as establishing new ones that would provide the needed support and services both to the students and the staff. In 2003, the College further expanded its services and started offering degree programs in Marketing, Management, Accounting, and diploma programs in Teacher Education (in the fields of English, Mathematics, and Geography). A year later, the Computer Science Department, after being beefed up with the needed manpower, facilities, and equipment, started offering Degree programs. In the same year, the Natural Science Stream (comprising the subjects Biology, Chemistry, and Physics), began offering diploma level training under the Teacher Education Faculty.
By August 2005, St. Mary’s University had more than 15,000 students in the distance mode of learning and 5,000 in the regular and extension programs. The institution was promoted to the level of University College in February 2006. In the same year, SMU, in collaboration with IGNOU – a leading distance education provider in India, started offering Masters Programs within St. Mary’s University newly acquired campus. The program was introduced at a time when the wide gap between the demand for tertiary-level quality education and the supply side of the services called for such programs.
In 2009, IGNOU’s office moved to a building secured for the School of Graduate Studies located off-Bole Road near to the Meskel Square. The Institute of Agricultural Studies was also housed in the same building. At Midir Baboor Campus, where the Teacher Education Faculty had its offices and a library, the Testing Center of the University runs its day to day activities. This center is entrusted with offering training to the entire academic staff on matters pertaining to measurement and evaluation. In addition, the center also prepares and administers exit exams for undergraduate degree program students and international tests like ToEFL and GRE.
The DED (now College of Open and Distance Learning) today offers a total of 22 degree programs through its 154 coordinating centers, which are located throughout the country catering to the needs of close to 20,000 students. In the conventional mode of learning, the university has eleven degree programs with student population of more than 6000.
St. Mary’s University is a founding member of the Ethiopian Private Higher Education and Technical Institutions Association and is a member of the African Association of Universities (www.aau.org), International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQAAHE), African Quality Network, and International Council for Distance Education (ICDE).