Mr. Houle was born on March 26, 1913, in Sarasota, Florida. His parents migrated there from Maine and French Canada. He attended the public schools of that city and the University of Florida at Gainesville, receiving both bachelor's and master's degrees in 1934. He was awarded a Ph.D. degree in adult education from The University of Chicago in 1940. From 1939 to 1978, Mr. Houle was on the faculty of The University of Chicago. He was chairman of the thesis committees of 68 doctoral graduates, was also a member of the thesis committees of many other doctoral students and served as supervisor for about 250 people who completed their masters' degrees.
In addition to his teaching and research, he undertook other assignments at the University. Most notable was the Deanship of University College, the extension division of the University, a position which he held from 1944 through 1952. Its programming was sufficiently innovative to result in his being named in 1947 as the outstanding young man of Chicago by the Junior Association of Commerce. He served during World War II as administrator of the University's training programs for servicemen. In the mid-1950s he served for two terms as Spokesman for the University's faculty.
Mr. Houle's second major affiliation was with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Until 1976, his contact with the Foundation was continuing but sporadic, including the administration of grants and service as a member of key advisory groups. From 1976 until 1995, he had annual appointments as Senior Program consultant, usually for half or more of his working time.
He has had teaching appointments at The University of California-Berkeley, the University of Washington, Leeds University, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Oxford University. He has also served part-time as a member of commissions sponsored by the Office of the President, the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the American Council on Education, Unesco, and the Educational Testing Service.
In a lifelong effort to identify and analyze the whole field of adult education, its themes, and sectors of influence, Mr. Houle has published 14 books, 21 monographs, and at least 145 papers, chapters in symposiums, introductions to books, and other analytical pieces. In addition, he has published two books on the nature and processes of governing boards.
Among the major honors received by Mr. Houle are creation and maintenance by the AAACE of the annually-conferred Cyril O. Houle Award for Outstanding Literature in Adult Education and the establishment and funding by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of a program to support nine annual Cyril O. Houle Scholars in Adult and Continuing Education.
Mr. Houle was married to Bettie Eckhardt Totten in 1947. They have one son, David.