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The University of Houston-Victoria began as an effort in the late 1960s by the local community to bring a higher learning institution to Victoria. In 1973, after meetings with Texas legislators, community leaders succeeded in establishing an off-campus center of the University of Houston called the University of Houston Victoria Center. In its inaugural year, 100 students enrolled in at the center.

In April 1983, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 235, which granted the institution permanent degree-granting status in the state of Texas. The University of Houston Victoria Center was renamed the University of Houston-Victoria and became the University of Houston System's fourth university.

In October 2008, the UH System Board of Regents adopted a resolution authorizing UHV to seek enabling state legislation to add freshmen and sophomores. In the 81st Texas legislative session, state Rep. Geanie Morrison introduced House Bill 1056, which would allow UHV to expand, and state Sen. Glenn Hegar introduced an identical bill, Senate Bill 567. Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed HB 1056 into law on June 19, 2009. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools approved UHV to admit underclassmen and offer lower-division courses on Nov. 17, 2009, and UHV also received its first freshman application the same day. UHV's first freshmen and sophomores started taking classes in fall 2010, and the university's first residence hall, Jaguar Hall, opened on the Victoria campus.

UHV started its athletics program during the 2007-08 school year with the Jaguars baseball and softball team. Since then, the teams have strongly competed in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. Soccer and golf programs for both men and women began in fall 2010.