The American University in Cairo was founded in 1919 by Americans devoted to education and service in the Middle East. For its first 27 years, the University was shaped by its founding president, Charles A. Watson, who wished to create an English-language University based on high standards of conduct and scholarship, and to contribute to the intellectual growth, discipline and character of the future leaders of Egypt and the region.

Throughout its history, AUC has balanced a strong commitment to liberal arts education with a concern for the region's needs for practical applications and professional specializations. Today, AUC emphasizes a liberal arts education, with all undergraduate students studying a common set of courses in the humanities and the natural and social sciences as part of the University's Core Curriculum. In addition, AUC maintains its strong commitment to fostering understanding across world regions, cultures and religions.

Early Years

Initially, AUC was intended to be both a preparatory school and a University. The preparatory school opened in October 1920 with 142 students in two classes that were equivalent to the last two years of an American high school. The first diplomas issued were junior college-level certificates given to 20 students in 1923.

At first an institution only for males, the University enrolled its first female student in 1928, the same year in which the first class graduated, with two Bachelor of Arts and one Bachelor of Science awarded. Master's degrees were first offered in 1950.

Originally, AUC offered instruction in the arts and sciences, as well as education. In 1921, the School of Oriental Studies was added, followed in 1924 by the Division of Extension. This division was renamed the Division of Public Service, and later the Center for Adult and Continuing Education. AUC's high school division, known as the Lincoln School, was discontinued in 1951.

Growth and Expansion

In 1956, the School of Oriental Studies was incorporated into the Faculty of Arts and Sciences as the Center for Arabic Studies. The English Language Institute was added the same year. After the Faculty of Education was discontinued in 1961 and degree offerings  were dropped from the Division of Public Service, University degree work was consolidated into a single academic structure –– the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Programs in sociology, anthropology, political science and economics were added to the curriculum, and the natural science offerings were significantly expanded.

Two applied research units, the Social Research Center and the Desert Development Center, were established in 1953 and 1979 respectively. Another landmark in the history of the University was the development of professional programs: The engineering, computer science, journalism and mass communication, and management departments began to offer several degree programs at the bachelor's and master's levels.

In 1960, AUC enrolled approximately 400 academic students. By 1969, the University had more than tripled its degree enrollment to more than 1,300 students, 450 of whom were pursuing graduate studies. Since then, academic program enrollment grew to more than 5,000, with an additional 1,000 at the master's degree level.

In 1993, the academic programs offered through the 13 departments were organized into three schools: Humanities and Social Sciences; Sciences and Engineering; and Business, Economics and Communications.  

Adult education expanded simultaneously and now serves approximately 40,000 individuals each year in noncredit courses and contracted training programs offered by the School of Continuing Education (formerly the Center for Adult and Continuing Education).

The Present

Through subsequent reorganizations, the University currently has 25 departments and institutes offering bachelor's, master's and graduate diploma programs, in addition to 13 cross-discipline research centers. The University offers 40 undergraduate, 52 master’s and two PhD programs rooted in a liberal arts education that encourages students to think critically and find creative solutions to conflicts and challenges facing both the region and the world.