Jump to main content

Advancing Knowledge through Discovery

UNC offers students the best educational experience in Colorado, not just because we have amazing academic programs, but also because our professors are talented, innovative teachers who bring research to students in the classroom and in the field. By connecting teaching and research UNC offers students a unique experience with 200 undergraduate and graduate programs on-campus, off-campus and online.

A 4-year doctoral-granting university, UNC is uniquely positioned to advance knowledge through discovery because of its just-right size, expert faculty and tradition of research and hands-on learning.

From Normal School to University

The history of The University of Northern Colorado begins in the late 1880s, when citizens of Greeley petitioned the Colorado government to create a school to educate teachers in their community. In April 1889 Governor Cooper signed a bill establishing the Colorado State Normal School. Classes began in October of the next year.

The university opened on October 6, 1890, as the Colorado State Normal School to train qualified teachers for the state's public schools, with a staff of four instructors and 96 students. Greeley's citizens raised the money for the first building.

In 1911 the school's name was changed to Colorado State Teachers College and two years later, in 1913, graduate courses were added to the school’s curriculum, leading to a name change in 1935, when the school became the Colorado State College of Education.

The school continues to grow, and in 1957 the name was shortened to Colorado State College to reflect the wider range of programs and degrees. Finally, in 1970 the name was changed to the current University of Northern Colorado.

Teaching in Our DNA

Dr. Zachariah Xenophon Snyder arrived at the fledgling university in 1891. He studied and implemented the principles of American philosopher and psychologist John Dewey by advancing the ideals of a “child-centered education.

He established Colorado’s first kindergarten, and Laura Tefft, from the famous Foebel-Pestalozzo Kindergarten School in Berlin, organized the innovative school. An early photograph shows young children playing on a playground located on campus.

While playgrounds are now an everyday sight at primary schools, they were considered an innovation at the time. One of the Normal School’s first master’s thesis explored the national playground movement.

Early photograph of young children playing on a playground

Historic Challenges

In 1913, President Snyder established a graduate school at CSCE. After his death in 1915, President John Grant Crabbe saw the university through World War I and the Spanish influenza epidemic.

He met financial challenges by contracting with the War Department to initiate the Student Army Training Corps (SATC), housing and educating active service men. Influenza fears fueled a call for closures of universities, but Crabbe kept classes in session while the school was quarantined, keeping student from traveling home and almost certain risk of exposure.

No lives were lost on campus. He remained at the university until his death in 1924 at the age of 58.

A line of men in the Student Army Training Corps

Scholars Who Teach

George W. Frasier was the university’s president from 1924 to 1948. The Graduate School was created in 1930.

Frasier emphasized teachers who are also scholars, which is still a hallmark of the university. “…faculty members were not only expected to make professional contributions but were to concentrate on their teaching responsibilities as well; everyone taught classes, including Frasier, his administrative staff, and the chairs of the departments.”

During World War II, the university operated an army air force clerical training school for more than 4,000 men. Frasier consulted for the Civil Aeronautics Administration and the college conducted a cattle-feeding operation to provide meat for students and Air Force trainees.

In 1942, as Japanese Americans were imprisoned at the Granada Relocation Center in Lamar, Colorado (part of the US’s controversial policy of relocating some 110,000 Japanese Americans) the university offered interns the opportunity to earn student teaching credit.

Student and progessor in discussion at blackboard

From Teachers to Bears

It was during President Frasier’s tenure that students adopted the university mascot—a bear—as a replacement to the previous mascot name, the “Teachers.”

UNC bear mascot, Klawz

Expanding Beyond Teaching

The university’s origins as an educator of educators has remained integral to its success, but the university’s offerings expanded.

During the mid-1960s, the school ranked eighth in the number of graduate degrees in education conferred. The School of Nursing was established during President William Ross’s tenure, as was an Air Force ROTC program designed to attract more male students.

The School of Business was created in 1968. One-fifth of students majored in business, nursing or a liberal arts or non-education area.

Student nurse talking to a boy

A New Name

In 1970, Colorado State College became the University of Northern Colorado. The university’s library was named for UNC alum and former teacher James A. Michener, 1948 Pulitzer Prize winner.

University Seal

A Century and Beyond

In the early 1980s, the university focused growth on four areas: teacher education, business, music and the nursing and health professions.

In 1986, UNC’s Vocal Jazz I group became the first college vocal group to receive a Grammy nomination. School of Music faculty have been nominated for five Grammy awards, and have won four.

In 1992, UNC inaugurated its ninth president and first Hispanic president, Herman Luján. During his tenure, the campus landscape changed with new construction, including a new campus recreation center, Nottingham Field, and the renovation of Gunter Hall.

In 2002, Kay Norton became the 12th president and the first woman to serve in the position. She leads UNC in developing innovate and organizational strategies, emphasizing the need for the university to take charge of its future in the face of regulatory, financial and social changes.

In 2014, UNC celebrated its 125th birthday.

Student playing the violin

Rankings, Awards and Recognition

College of Education and Behavioral Sciences

  • UNC is one of 240 U.S. colleges and universities receiving Community Engagement Classification from The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
  • UNC is ranked 12th for “Colleges with Psychology at Their Core” and 44th among top U.S. Colleges & Universities for Teaching Education.
  • Nearly one-third of the winners of the Colorado Department of Education's Teacher of the Year award are UNC graduates.
  • UNC leads the state in teacher employment and has more students enrolled in Science Licensure programs than any other Colorado institution (CCHE, 2013).
  • Recipient of the Christa McAuliffe Excellence in Teacher Education Award

College of Natural and Health Sciences

  • UNC’s Sport Administration graduate program is one of only two U.S. ranked programs in the top five worldwide by the leading publication covering the international sport business community.
  • UNC’s Rehabilitation Counseling program ranked 15th nationally.
  • Among U.S. undergraduate-only Physics programs, UNC ranks in the top 35 for the largest number of bachelor's degrees granted. 

College of Performing and Visual Arts

  • University Orchestra has been named the top university orchestra in the U.S. seven times in the past 10 years

UNC Extended Campus (Online)

  • UNC’s online graduate programs in education ranked eighth in the nation
  • 43rd from among several thousand four-year colleges that offer online degree programs.

Honors Society Clubs

  • For eight consecutive years, UNC's chapter of Sigma Delta Pi, the National Collegiate Hispanic Honor Society, has been named an Honor Chapter for its outstanding activities.


  • UNC’s Instructional Services Department of University Libraries has been recognized as one of five university library programs nationally that illustrates best practices in pedagogy. (Association of College and Research Libraries)


  • 51 student athletes received Big Sky All-Academic Spring honors. It broke down to 18 from women's outdoor track and field, 13 from softball, 7 from men's outdoor track and field, 4 from women's golf and tennis, 3 from men's golf and 2 from men's tennis. To be eligible, a student-athlete must have met and/or exceeded the following minimum requirements: 1) Participated in at least half of the team's competitions; 2) Achieved a 3.2 cumulative grade point average (on a 4.0 scale) at the conclusion of the most recently completed term; 3) Completed at least one academic term at his/her current Big Sky institution.
  • 13 student athletes earned WAC All-Academic honors. 7 from baseball and 6 from swimming and diving. To be eligible, a student-athlete must have completed at least one academic year, have at least a 3.2 cumulative grade point average and have participated in at least 50 percent of the team's contests.
  • 67 student athletes were recognized for their tremendous efforts in the class room making the Dean's List of Distinction and Dean's Honor Roll. To be awarded on the List of Distinction a student must carry anywhere between at 3.75-4.0 GPA in any two terms (Summer, Fall, Spring) and have completed at least 24 credit hours. To be placed on the Honor Roll a student must maintain at 3.5-3.74 GPA in any two terms along with taking a minimum of 24 credit hours. 
  • Between the Big Sky's three teams along with the WCC and WAC, 122 UNC student-athletes made All-Academic honors in the spring. 

Baseball (Head Coach:  Carl Iwasaki)

  • Qualified for WAC Championship Tournament for the first time in program history and seven players earned WAC All-Academic team honors

Men's Basketball (Head Coach:  Jeff Linder)

  • Qualified for Big Sky Conference Tournament for third straight year and two players were named to Big Sky All-Academic team
  • Men’s Basketball will open the season at powerhouse Kansas at the historical Allen Fieldhouse on Nov. 13 to open the season. This season The Bears will play a Big 12 opponent, an SEC opponent (Mississippi State) and a Pac 12 opponent (Colorado) as well as hosting Colorado State University on Dec. 13 and in-state rival Denver on Dec. 16.
  • The Maui Jim Maui Invitational, the nation's premier early-season college basketball tournament, selected the University of Northern Colorado to play host to its regional tournament. The Regional games, which were introduced to the Tournament in 2011, will be held on Nov. 21 and 22 and feature four teams: Austin Peay, Cal Poly, UMBC and Northern Colorado.

Women's Basketball (Head Coach:  Kamie Ethridge)

  • Won program record of 22 games in a season, advanced to third round of the WNIT and earned WBCA All-Academic Team honors
  • Women’s Basketball will play host to the University of South Florida on Dec. 15. USF finished #24 in the country last season with a 27-8 overall record. They also compete in the dominant American Athletic Conference along with women’s basketball powerhouse UConn.
  • UNC’s women’s basketball team had the 20th best team GPA in all of Division I women's basketball with a 3.431 mark earning WBCA Academic Team Honor row for the sixth year in a row.

Football (Head Coach:  Earnest Collins Jr.)

  • Had first win over ranked opponent since 2007 when defeating #25 NAU and nine student-athletes earned Big Sky All-Academic honors
  • The football team will host two opponents in the FCS Top 25 national rankings in #7 Eastern Washington on Oct. 24 and #25 Portland State on Nov. 7.

Men's Golf (Head Coach:  Roger Prenzlow)

  • Conner Barr finished Top 15 at the Big Sky Conference Championship and team earned GCAA All-American honors

Women's Golf (Head Coach:  Stephen Bidne)

  • Had five Top 10 finishes as a team throughout the year and earned 3.42 team GPA for Fall, 2014

Soccer (Head Coach:  Tim Barrera)

  • Advanced to Big Sky Championship Tournament for the 4th time in 5 years and was the only team in the conference to earn the Bronze Sportsmanship and Ethics award

Softball (Head Coach:  Shana Easley)

  • For first time in program history, defeated ranked opponent (#21 Tulsa) and earned second highest GPA amongst all DI Softball programs

Swimming & Diving (Head Coach:  Kelly McClanahan)

  • Best finish since joining the WAC with 3rd place at Championship meet and earned second highest GPA in country for all DI Swimming & Diving programs
  • Swimming and Diving was named a College Swimming Coaches Association of America Scholar All-American team. They tied for fifth overall out of 406 institutions in the nation with a 3.59 team GPA. Northern Colorado moves into the Top 10 in the country and up seven positions from last spring when they ranked 12th overall with a 3.57 GPA. 

Men's Tennis (Head Coach:  TBD/Mike Phillips for 2014-15)

  • Ben Gendron made First Team All-Big Sky and two student-athletes earned conference All-Academic honors and were named to the UNC Dean's list

Women's Tennis (Head Coach:  Brenda Vlasak)

  • Defeated CSU for just the second time in program history and earned team GPA of 3.58 for Spring, 2015

Track & Field (Head Coach:  Amanda Schick)

  • Five student-athletes qualified for the NCAA West Regional (most in DI program history) and program produced both Big Sky Scholar Athletes of the Year
  • For the first time since joining the Big Sky Conference in 2006 Northern Colorado Track and Field will host the Conference’s Outdoor Championships, this will take place from May 11-14.

Volleyball (Head Coach:  Lyndsey Oates)

  • Advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the 4th time in 6 years and earned AVCA All-Academic Team honors
  • For the fourth straight season the women’s volleyball team has earned the American Volleyball Coaches Association Academic Team Award. This is the ninth time in the program's history UNC has been awarded with the honor. To be eligible for the honor the team must have a 3.30 cumulative team GPA over the year.

Wrestling:  (Head Coach:  Troy Nickerson)

  • Three student-athletes qualified for NCAA Nationals and three wrestlers earned WWC All-Academic honors
  • Northern Colorado wrestling has officially joined the Big 12 Conference. UNC will compete in the 2016 Big 12 Conference Championships which will take place at a neutral site in Kansas City, Missouri. This season, the tournament will take place March 5-6, 2016. The NCAA Division I National Tournament takes place two weeks later, March 17-19, in New York, New York, hosted by Hofstra University.


  • Bronze Bike Friendly University (League of American Bicyclists)
  • Tree Campus USA (Arbor Day Foundation and Toyota)
  • Environmental Stewardship Award (City of Greeley)
  • 2015 Military Friendly School

Residence Halls

  • Regional School of the Year (1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 2003, 2004 and 2010) The Intermountain Affiliate of College and University Residence Halls.
  • School of the Year, National Association of College and University Residence Halls