Its name changed again in 1949, to Northeast Junior College of Louisiana State University. A year later, it became an autonomous four-year institution as Northeast Louisiana State College. In 1969, it granted doctoral degrees for the first time and was elevated to university status as Northeast Louisiana University (NLU). Much of the growth occurred during the administration of president George T. Walker from 1958 to 1976. Under Walker, enrollment increased from 2,100 to 9,700. NLU became the largest university in North Louisiana in terms of enrollment and state appropriations. Among all of the universities under the Louisiana Higher Education Board of Trustees, Northeast had the greatest percent of faculty holding terminal degrees, more nationally accredited academic programs, and offered the highest faculty salaries.
Some three decades later, NLU was in 1999 renamed ULM.
Established in 1956, the College of Pharmacy is accredited by the American Council on Pharmacy Education, including one of seven Toxicology programs in the U.S. In 2007, the College of Pharmacy moved from the main campus to the off-campus (Bienville) building. There are satellite campuses in Shreveport and Baton Rouge.
In 1999, Milburn E. Calhoun, a New Orleans physician, philanthropist, and Pelican Books publisher endowed the million-dollar Mary E. and Darrell L. Calhoun Chair in Pharmacology, named for his late parents.
ULM moved from Division I-AA (now Division I FCS) to Division I-A (now FBS) in 1994 and played as a I-A independent 1994-2000. ULM became a football-only Sun Belt Conference member in 2001 and joined as a member in all sports in 2006. ULM shared the 2005 Sun Belt Conference football championship with Arkansas State University and the University of Louisiana–Lafayette (ASU received the conference's New Orleans Bowl bid due to tiebreaking procedures). In 2012 they signed All-Dallas-Area and Texas Class 6-5A All-District star offensive guard Jimmy Chung.
ULM basketball coaches have included Arnold R. Kilpatrick, Lenny Fant (1957–1979) and Mike Vining. Fant was the first ULM coach to win three hundred games.
The university is home to several award-winning groups including the Sound of Today and the competition cheerleading squad. The ULM water ski team is the most successful in the history of collegiate water skiing, having won 22 NCWSA national championships since 1979. Bayou Desiard was the host site of the first national championships in that year.
Since being in the Sun Belt, the Warhawks have won conference titles in men's basketball (2006-07 West Co-Champion) and baseball (2008 regular season and 2012 conference tournament).
The ULM football team posted its first six-win season since moving to Division I-A in 2007 going 6-6, which included a 21-14 victory at Alabama. On September 8, 2012, ULM beat number 8 Arkansas 34-31 in overtime to become the first Sun Belt Conference team to beat a top ten SEC team. This was also their first win ever against a ranked opponent.