The University of Northern Colorado was founded in 1889 as the State Normal School. It met a vital need to train qualified teachers in the burgoening state of Colorado, which was less than 15 years old. More than a century and four name changed later, the institution has grown to become a comprehensive Carnegie Doctoral Intensive University that educates students in five colleges - Education, Business, Health and Human Sciences, Performing and Visual Arts, and Arts and Sciences. But preparing teachers and other educational professionals remains at the heart of the university.

In the State Normal School's initial year, some 95 students were enrolled in classes taught by five faculty members. Instructors subscibed to the tenents of the Ecole Normale Superieure, an institution for teacher training established in France in 1794. The Normal School concept arrived in the United States in the 1830s and moved west with the country. Colorado's State Normal School was one of the first institutions in the West to undertake the professional preparation of teachers. They learned their craft in a two-year program that emphasized the basic educational concepts and encouraged "practice teaching" in Greeley schools.

The institution's early years were a whirl of building the campus, developing programs and graduating teachers. By 1910, it was offering four years of courses leading to a bachelor of arts degree. The increasing professionalism of the program and the institution's maturing led to the first name change, to the State Teachers' College. The institution continued to grow, and under the leadership of president George Williard Frasier it came to national prominence in the 1920s and 1930s. Frasier was an advocate of the progressive education movement that was popular at the time. Learning focused on the students and stressed the challeges they would face in the outside world. The Department of Educational Research was organized in 1924 and this encouraged more seminal work in education. In 1925 the College published a prominent and influential monthly journal, The Teachers College Journal and Abstract, which disseminated many of the college's innovative techniques.

Frasier raised expectations along with entrance standards. The first two years of college training were devoted to building in the prospective teacher a strong foundation of general knowledge. Course integration was increasingly common, and the college's graduate program grew. By 1935 and its second name change, to the Colorado State College of Education and Behavioral Studies, the Greeley institution was increasing its stature as a serious institution. It was living up to the appellation it earned in the 1920s, "Columbia of the West." Throughout the war years and into the 1950s, the college solidified its reputation as one of the top teacher-education institutions in the United States. Faculty were active scholars who maintained a commitment to teaching the next generations of teachers and education professionals. The college honed its graduate degree programs and sent alumni across the country to make their marks on a variety of P-12 schools, colleges and universities.

While teacher education remained the focus, the college continued to grow in a variety of areas. It bolstered already strong programs in the fields of health and performing and visual arts, and enhanced the depth and rigor or its general education curriculum. School officials believed that significant enrollment growth, expanding curriculum and increasing size of the campus meant the college had outgrown its name. In 1957, the Colorado State College of Education and Behavioral Studies became the Colorado State College. While the college was growing up, officials also stressed that its focus would remain "preparation of better teachers for a better world."

The school would continue to grow and prosper in the coming decades. Its commitment to teacher education also remained strong. The college added more graduate programs and worked to meet the continuing education needs of teachers in the field. Greeley became an important stop in the summer for teachers looking to enhance their skills and gain additional credentials. By its fourth and final name change in 1970, to the University of Northern Colorado, the institution had retained its reputation as one of the premier teacher-education universities in the United States. In 1985, the Colorado Legislature took the unique step of designating UNC as "the primary institution for undergraduate and graduate teacher education in the state of Colorado." At its centennial in 1989 only four universities in the United States surpassed it in number of teachers trained.

Today, UNC lives up to its historic and statutory responsibility by offering one of the most comprehensive teacher education programs in the country. In addition to a variety of general education courses and pedagogical preparation, undergraduate teacher candidates spend 800 hours of time in P-12 classrooms before graduating from the University. UNC has cooperative agreements with more than 35 partner schools in the state. Some 25 percent of the university's graduates each year pursue careers in teaching. Nearly two-thirds of the graduate programs at the institution are in the field of education. Just as it was at the institution's founding in 1889, it is meeting the critical need for teachers and other education professionals in Colorado, across the country and around the world.