Historical Sketch of Minnesota State University, Mankato

William E. Lass

            Minnesota State University, Mankato, evolved from Minnesota’s second normal school, which was founded in 1868. During its normal school phase, which lasted until 1921, the institution’s principal mission was teacher preparation for rural schools. The student body, which peaked at about 900 in 1920-21, was approximately three-fourths female. Students were usually 17-19 years old when they entered, but some were only 15 and a rare person as young as 12 was enrolled.  Most students were in either the six-week program or the two-year program.

Normal School building

            Since the normal school was not a college, its graduates received certificates rather than diplomas. Responding to societal changes including the passing of the frontier and increasing urbanization, the Mankato Normal School began requiring high school diplomas  for admission in 1916.

            In 1921 the state changed Mankato and its other normal schools (Winona, St. Cloud, Moorhead, Duluth and Bemidji) to state teachers colleges. The teachers colleges were authorized to offer four-year curriculums and Bachelor of Science degrees. The transition from normal schools to teachers colleges was in response to a national trend to require four-year programs and degrees for teacher certification.

Old Main Building

            During its 36-year history Mankato State Teachers College (commonly labeled “TC” by Mankatoans) experienced crises caused by the Great Depression and a World War II enrollment sag and a postwar boom.  The college survived the depression by reducing faculty salaries and employing many students with Works Progress Administration (WPA) funding. During World War II, when most of the male students joined the armed forces, enrollment dipped to only 328 in the fall of 1943. The college recouped somewhat by offering federally-funded courses in ground training for naval air cadets.

            With the advent of the GI Bill, the expectation that a college degree was necessary in an increasingly industrialized society and robust national and state economies, enrollment surged following the war. It was 2,854 in 1950, 7,749 in 1960 and 12,488 in 1971. Responding to the needs of a more diversified student body, the college added business, liberal arts, nursing, science, fine arts and graduate programs to its traditional emphasis on teacher training.

            The changing nature of Mankato State and its sister institutions caused the  legislature to convert all of the teachers colleges (Winona, Mankato, St. Cloud, Moorhead and Bemidji) into state colleges in 1957.  (The former Duluth State Teachers College had become a branch of the University of Minnesota in 1947.)

            In 1975, the legislature, again reacting to national trends, renamed the state colleges to state universities. Southwest State College at Marshall (1965) and Metropolitan State College at St. Paul (1971 ) had been added to the system during the state college era.

            The most dramatic effect of the post-World War II enrollment increase for the Mankato institution was the relocation of its campus. By the late 1950s the campus, located only four blocks from downtown ,was inadequate to fulfill student needs. Consequently, a new campus was developed on a hilltop about a mile away. From 1959 when the first hilltop buildings were opened until 1979, Mankato State’s activities were conducted on both the old “valley campus” and the new “highland campus”.  By the fall of 1964 enrollment was roughly equally divided between the campuses, which were connected by a fee-less bus service.

            This arrangement was workable in the days of cheap energy.  But, the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 made the commuting system cost-ineffective. Consequently, the legislature mandated the closing of the valley campus. By the opening of the Fall, 1979 term all university activities had been moved to the upper campus.

            The state sold the valley campus to a private developer, who subsequently razed parts of it. Its remnants consist of Old Main Village (senior housing), the library, which is a Blue Earth County office building and part of the science building, which houses various government and private offices.

Aerial View Of Highland Campus

            In 1995 Mankato State University and the six other universities (Winona, Mankato, St. Cloud, Moorhead, Bemidji, Southwest and Metropolitan) in the Minnesota State University System became part of the newly created Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system (Minnesota State).  By legislative fiat, Minnesota State was made the governing board for the state universities, community colleges and former vocational-technical schools. The Minnesota State system in 2011 includes seven state universities and twenty-five two-year colleges.  The Minnesota State system is separate from the University of Minnesota, which has campuses at Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth, Morris and Crookston.

            Minnesota State in September, 1998, authorized Mankato State University to change its name to Minnesota State University, Mankato. The request from Mankato State was prompted by the belief that the new name would increase the institution’s visibility outside of Minnesota.

            Since becoming Minnesota State University, Mankato, the institution has added doctoral programs, augmented its physical facilities and achieved record enrollments. The Fall 2010 enrollment of 15,393 included 13,547 undergraduates 1,716 post-graduates other than doctoral students and 130 enrollees in four different doctoral programs. The doctoral programs are Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), Doctor of Education (Ed. D.)—Counselor Education and Supervision, Doctor of Psychology  (Psy. D.)—School Psychology and Doctor of Education (Ed. D.)—Educational Leadership.