Isabela State University tracks down its humble beginning in December 1918 to a farm school, called the Echague Farm School in Echague Isabela, comprising of a four-room academic building and a home economics building organized through the initiative efforts of an American supervising teacher Mr. Horatio Smith, under the provisions of the Compulsory Education Act of the Philippines.
Consisting of only ten teachers to run the school, it accommodated 100 pupils from grades five to seven to take up elementary agriculture in Echague. Soon after, growth was gradually seen when the 100 enrollees increased to 300 necessitating the hiring of more home economics teachers and a farm manager as was provided by the same provision. Subsequently, more infrastructures were gradually constructed in 1925 to include a modest library building, a granary, a poultry swine building, garden houses and a nursery (located at Old Site, San Fabian, Echague, Isabela). Echague Isabela
More developments soon followed with the conversion of the farm school into a rural high school in 1928. This progress provided for the opening of higher academic levels – the first and second year classes, and the third and fourth year classes thereafter. In response to increasing demands for appropriate higher education programs, the secondary agricultural education and home economics courses were made fully operational.
The year 1935 brought in another development for the Isabela State University when the Municipal Council of Echague, Isabela withdrew its support from the gradually progressing rural high school. Consequently, the school was transferred to Jones, Isabela where it saw the reverting of its status to a farm school again until the World War II.
When the liberation period came in 1946, the farm school was named Isabela Agricultural High School and was relocated to Echague, Isabela but in a new site near the junction area and not in the previous site. In 1952, it was renamed Echague Rural High School. As the course in forestry was integrated into the agricultural courses of the school in 1960, it was deemed appropriate to rename it as Echague Agricultural and Forestry School. Soon, the school began to gain recognition when in 1963 it earned the status of an agricultural school in the region. With the status came a broader sphere of responsibility as it was now expected to respond to the needs of its clientele not only in the provincial but also in the regional level. This seemed to have served as the cue for more innovations to follow.
More academic programs were offered as demanded by its regional school status supported by the timely reorganization of the administrative advisory structure of the newly created Bureau of Vocational Education which gave greater freedom to the agricultural, trade and fixture schools to plan and implement their educational programs. Concurrent with the agricultural school status, in 1970, the Echague Agricultural and Forestry School was also designated as the Manpower Training Center for the region.
The filing of House Bill 2866 during the Seventh Congress of the Philippines continually elevated the status of the school. The bill made possible the conversion of the Echague Agricultural and Forestry School into a state college. The conversion move was approved by the Lower House on April 17, 1972 and was subsequently passed by the Senate on May 30, 1972. However, its presidential approval was made pending. But shortly after the declaration of Martial Law, the bill was finally signed and the now state college was named Isabela State College of Agriculture. With its new status, the programs in agriculture, forestry and home economics were expanded and engineering, agri-business and post-secondary two-year courses were opened.
The Educational Decree of 1972 promulgated on September 20, 1972 set another direction for the educational system. The decree declared a government policy to re-orient the educational system for an accelerated national economic growth and social development. During this time, the province of Isabela was also experiencing growth in many aspects. As the province saw the need to accommodate the results of its growth and respond to the call for national development through education, it felt the need to integrate and convert the institutions of higher learning into one effective and efficient state university. Presidential Decree (PD) 1434 then emerged two state colleges- the Isabela State College of Agriculture in Echague and the Cagayan Valley Institute of Technology (CVIT) in Cabagan to become the Isabela State University. This also transferred the college level courses of the Isabela School of Arts and Trades in Ilagan; the Jones Rural School in Jones; the Roxas Memorial Agricultural and Industrial School in Roxas; the San Mateo Vocational and Industrial School in San Mateo. As likewise provided in the same decree, Echague campus is the seat of the administration. PD 1437 complemented PD 1434 by defining the composition, powers, and functions of the governing board which was amended by RA 8292 (Higher Education Modernization Act of 1997).
In 1999, the CHED Memorandum Order No. 18 s. 1999 which provides the guidelines for the integration of CHED Supervised Institutions (CSIs) to SUCs, was enacted. Pursuant to this order, the first CHED supervised institution that was integrated into the University is the Cauayan Polytechnic College at Cauayan Isabela in 2000. In 2002 another three CSIs were integrated into the system, namely: the Roxas Memorial Agricultural and Industrial School (RMAIS) with ISU Roxas Campus; the Delfin Albano Memorial Institute of Agriculture and Technology (DAMIAT) in San Mariano, Isabela; and, the Angadanan Agro-Industrial College (AAIC) in Angadanan, Isabela. With the enthusiasms of the Palanan and Santiago City Local Government Units (LGUs), the ISU and the said LGUs had entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to establish extension campuses to their respective places. Palanan campus was established in 2004 while, Santiago City ISU campus last June 2008. To date the university has 11 campuses grouped into 4 clusters strategically located in the four congressional districts of Isabela.
On June 10, 2008, the Isabela State University celebrated its Pearl Founding Anniversary (30th year) of glorious existence and modest contribution to countryside development as it has continually committed itself to its tradition of quality and excellence in education.