SAU Tech was created on April 5, 1967, as Southwest Technical Institute by Act 534 of the Arkansas Legislature. The purpose of the institute was to provide a technically trained workforce for the growing Highland Industrial Park where it was located. Seventy acres of land and six buildings at the Park were donated by the Brown Foundation of Houston, Texas which had purchased the former Shumaker Naval Ammunition Depot for redevelopment. Financing for renovation and equipping the facility was made possible by a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
The Arkansas State Board of Education operated the school until 1975 when, by an Act of the Arkansas Legislature, Southwest Technical Institute became Southern Arkansas University Tech, under the governance of the Board of Trustees of Southern Arkansas University. With this change, the college came under the jurisdiction of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education to grant the associate of arts and associate of science degrees as well as the associate of applied science degree.
Today, SAU Tech is a two-year college specializing in technical training and offers the first two years of a university transfer program in General Education, Teacher Education, and Business Administration. Technical programs are offered in Aviation Maintenance, Computer Information Technology, Technology, with the option of an emphasis in Industrial Maintenance and Engineering, Office Systems Technology, with the option of an emphasis in Medical Transcription, and Multimedia Technology, which includes either an emphasis in Film & Video Production, Graphic Design, or Game Design and Development.
Roger L. Worsley, former president of Laredo Community College in Laredo, Texas, became chancellor of SAU Tech in 1996. In 2001, he reported that 112 former employees, a fifth of the work force, of the 73-year-old but since closed International Paper plant in Camden, were at SAU Tech seeking educational credentials for other jobs, many with state financial assistance. He noted that many of the jobs for which the workers were training were in computer networking and electronics, openings mostly unavailable in Camden and the South Arkansas region. Once the skills were acquired, the workers would largely be leaving the Camden area.
When Worsley retired from SAU Tech in 2005, the Arkansas General Assembly honored his contributions to higher education. Legislators noted the increase in enrollment from 700 to 2,100 during Worsley's tenure. SAU Tech became the fastest-growing college in Arkansas, having grown 24.6 percent in the fall of 2004 and 26.7 percent in the spring of 2005. Worsley introduced Internet classes, and enrollment expanded in the various specialty schools at the institution. On-line degrees soon followed.
The specialty schools are the SAU Tech Career Academy, the Ouachita County Adult Education Center, the Arkansas Fire Training Academy, and the Arkansas Environmental Training Academy. The Columbia and Dallas County adult education centers have joined the SAU Tech list of programs and facilities.
SAU Tech is governed by the Board of Trustees of Southern Arkansas University in nearby Magnolia. The SAU Tech Chancellor reports directly to the SAU President in Magnolia.
SAU Tech is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. SAU Tech's overall accreditation, and those of its individual programs, are independent of SAU's accreditations.
The following programs have received additional accreditation or approval as shown below: