In June of 1975, Naropa Institute assembled its first degree program, an MA Psychology program designed originally as an extension of a program in Connecticut—one of the many seminars resulting from Trungpa's prolific and charismatic teaching career in the West. It was a sixteen-week Maitri program, based on Buddhist teachings about basic patterns of energy.
Trungpa had created Maitri before Naropa existed. When he asked Marvin Casper—who went on to chair Naropa's Contemplative Psychology Department and edit two of Trungpa's books—to help restructure it, Casper turned it into a degree program at the Naropa Institute. Initially, students were required to attend three of the Institute's summer sessions, take two Maitri programs in Connecticut and complete a six-month independent project.
In January of 1976, the Institute offered its first group of degree programs as Trungpa pushed the Institute toward accreditation: BA degrees in Buddhist Studies and Visual Art, the MA in Psychology, an MFA in Visual Art and Expressive Arts Certificates in Dance, Theater and Poetics.
In 1986, the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools accredited Naropa Institute.
Trungpa taught at Naropa Institute regularly from 1974 to 1986 and continually worked with the faculty and the administration in developing the college. After his death in 1987, Trungpa Rinpoche left a legacy of teachings and writings. Among his many groundbreaking publications are Born in Tibet, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, The Myth of Freedom and Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior.
His aspiration for the college and his teachings remain very much alive at the Naropa University, the name formally adopted in 1999.