History of CMU

site of original downtown location

Central Michigan University is in its second century as an institution of higher learning focused on student-centered education.

Central opened its doors on September 13, 1892, as the Central Michigan Normal School and Business Institute, with classes in teaching, business and stenography. At that time, few of the state’s teachers received any formal training in teaching, so school founders made teacher training their mission in founding the state’s second normal school.

Thirty-one students attended classes in second-floor rooms over an office on the corner of Main and Michigan streets in downtown Mount Pleasant. Most students at the time were eighth-grade graduates, attending the “Normal” for a few weeks or months prior to beginning their careers as teachers. Within the first two years, land was acquired and a $10,000 Normal School Building was constructed where Warriner Hall now stands.

Since then the school has undergone significant growth and change, yet still remains committed to preparing students for personal and professional success, as well as civic engagement, throughout their lives after graduation.

In 1893, it became known as Central Michigan Normal School.

In 1895, the Michigan State Board of Education assumed control of the school, which had grown to 135 students, renaming it Central State Normal School. The transition to the new name was fluid, with many holding onto the title Central Michigan Normal School for a few years.

By 1898, enrollment had more than tripled to 450 students. In January 1906, the Normal School surpassed 1,000 graduates.

From Central's early years, alumni were making international impacts, with graduates teaching not just all across the country, but also in Canada, Puerto Rico and the Philippine Islands as early as 1909.

Throughout this time, Central’s educational offerings also were growing more comprehensive. Students completing two years of schooling beyond high school began receiving their life teaching certificates in 1903. The school’s first psychology clinic was established in 1910, and Central was accredited by the North Central Association for the first time in 1915. In 1918, the bachelor of arts degree was first awarded, followed by the bachelor of science in 1927. Central’s first graduate courses were offered in 1938.

In the decades preceding World War II, the school's name changed again — first to Central State Teachers College in 1927, then to Central Michigan College of Education in 1941 — while enrollment rose to more than 1,800 students.

In the post-war years of 1949-59, Central’s first master’s degree was accredited by the North Central Association, and the first large student residence halls and married housing units were built.

In 1955, another name change, to Central Michigan College, reflected the diversification in course offerings beyond education. Then, on June 1, 1959, with an enrollment of 4,500 students, Central became Central Michigan University, a designation representing further growth in the complexity of the school’s academic programs. Many students enrolled in pre-professional programs for medicine and law, while advances in science and technology created even wider curricula.

Through the 1960s, enrollment grew to more than 14,000 students. The enormous rate of growth caused significant change in the character of the university. Buildings were constructed on the land south of Preston Street, more than doubling the physical size of the campus.

The gift of Neithercut Woodland near Farwell and the establishment of CMU’s Biological Station on Beaver Island gave the university valuable facilities for specialized studies.

The number and variety of programs also continued to grow. Programs in business and communications were developed and expanded. In 1971, the Institute for Personal and Career Development was established to provide academic programs for students with limited access to traditional forms of education. The specialist in education degree marked CMU’s entry into training beyond the master’s degree level, which now includes specialist degrees in several disciplines and eight doctoral degrees.

It was during this time that the university began to recruit faculty representing diverse geographic and institutional backgrounds and areas of expertise in order to more fully prepare students for the increasingly global society. The standards set for teaching and research in this period continue to shape the university today.

The technological advances of the 1980s spurred further program expansion, especially throughout the sciences, and ground was broken for the Industrial Engineering and Technology building in 1987. Other construction followed, including the Dow Science Complex, Applied Business Studies Complex and Student Activities Center. CMU’s Global Campus continued to grow as well, and the university offered its first online courses in 1994, offering courses to students around the world.

Campus continued to expand with the addition of academic, athletic and residential buildings through the 1990s and the early 21st century. The modern Music Building was opened in 1997, followed by a $50 million expansion of the Park Library in 2002 and the state-of-the-art Health Professions Building and several residence halls in 2003. CMU’s newest buildings are the technologically advanced and LEED-certified Education and Human Services Building, which opened in 2009, and the John G. Kulhavi​ Events Center, which opened in December 2010 and also includes environmentally friendly features.

The College of Medicine, the nation’s 137th medical school, was established in 2009 with a mission of improving access to high-quality health care in Michigan, especially in rural and medically underserved communities. It was created to address the shortage of physicians in Michigan and the need for quality health care. The College of Medicine’s first class of 62 individuals graduated in 2017, each one of them obtaining residency.

The four-story, 169,000-square-foot CMU Biosciences Building opened to students in January 2017, providing students and faculty greater opportunities for meaningful hands-on research and opening the doors for leading researchers and scholars to come to CMU.

And even though so much has changed over the last two centuries, Central Michigan University continues to uphold the values inscribed upon its seal in 1892: Sapientia, Virtus, Amicitia – wisdom, virtue, friendship.