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CMU - A Brief History

More than 25 years into its second century as an institution of higher learning, Central Michigan University is focused on creating a caring and engaging environment where students achieve success.

Central opened its doors on Sept. 13, 1892, as the Central Michigan Normal School and Business Institute, with classes in teaching, business, and stenography. At that time, few Michigan 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 at 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.

In 1895, the Michigan State Board of Education assumed control of the school, which had grown to 135 students, renaming it Central Michigan Normal School. By 1918, the campus consisted of 25 acres with five buildings, one of which — Grawn Hall — is still in use, though substantially expanded and upgraded. Enrollment had more than tripled in 10 years to 450 students. In 1925, a fire destroyed the school’s main building, and Warriner Hall was built to replace it.

Throughout this time, Central’s educational offerings also were growing more comprehensive. In 1903, students completing two years of schooling beyond high school began receiving their life teaching certificates. In 1915, the school was accredited by the North Central Association for the first time. In 1918, the Bachelor of Arts degree was first awarded, followed by the Bachelor of Science in 1927. In 1938, Central offered its first graduate courses.

Before World War II, the school’s name changed again — first to Central State Teachers College, then to Central Michigan College of Education — while enrollment rose to more than 1,800 students.

In the postwar years of 1949-59, the first large student residence halls were built, and the North Central Association accredited Central’s first master’s degree.

On June 1, 1959, with 40 buildings on a 235-acre campus and an enrollment of 4,500 students, Central was renamed Central Michigan University, a designation that reflected growth in the complexity of the school’s academic offerings as well as its physical growth in the postwar period.

Through the 1960s, enrollment grew from 4,500 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 grew. 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. In the early 1970s, CMU began offering doctoral programs in psychology. Today, CMU provides more than 40 master’s degree programs, 30 graduate certificates, 18 doctoral programs, and two specialist degrees. Seventeen master’s degree programs have accelerated bachelor’s-to-master’s admissions, which allow undergraduate students at CMU to reduce the total number of credits required to complete their undergraduate and graduate degrees.

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

Campus continued to add academic, athletic, and residential buildings through the 1990s and 2000s. The modern Music Building opened in 1997, followed by a $50 million expansion of Park Library in 2002, the state-of-the-art Health Professions Building and several residence halls in 2003, the technologically advanced and LEED-certified Education and Human Services Building in 2009, and the CMU Events Center in 2010. In 2012, CMU opened its College of Medicine Building.

In addition, the technologically cutting-edge Biosciences Building — the largest capital project in CMU history — opened for classes in January 2017. The facility serves students and faculty in biological science disciplines from molecular biology and biochemistry to biology of organisms and ecology. It houses research-active faculty members and provides classroom and laboratory space.

Grawn Hall, home of the College of Business Administration, was upgraded and expanded in fall 2017. In January 2020, the new 50,000-square-foot Center for Integrated Health Studies opened, allowing CMU health care programs to expand.

Even though so much has changed over the past two centuries, CMU’s values today reflect those inscribed upon its seal in 1892: Sapientia, Virtus, Amicitia – wisdom, virtue, friendship.


Presidents of the University

Charles F.R. Bellows 1892 - 1896
Charles McKenny 1896 - 1900
Charles T. Grawn 1900 - 1918
Eugene C. Warriner 1918 - 1939
Charles L. Anspach 1939 - 1959
Judson W. Foust 1959 - 1968
William B. Boyd 1968 - 1975
Harold Abel 1975 - 1985
Arthur E. Ellis 1985 - 1988
Edward B. Jakubauskas 1988 - 1992
Leonard E. Plachta 1992 - 2000
Michael Rao 2000 - 2009
Kathleen M. Wilbur 2009 - 2010
George E. Ross 2010 – 2018
 Robert O. Davies 2018-Present