Coloradans have always been pioneers in education. The first area school was established by Professor O.J. Goldrick in Auraria in 1859 – it was a mud cabin. Boulder’s first schoolhouse was built in 1860.

The history of the School of Education at the University of Colorado Boulder parallels that of the university. As early as 1874, the territorial legislative body drafted the following law in preparation for statehood:

(General Laws of the State of Colorado, Chapter CI) 2758. Sec. 12. The university shall include a classical, philosophical, normal, scientific, law and such other departments, with such courses of instruction and elective studies as the board of regents may determine, and a department of the physical sciences, and the board shall have authority to confer such degrees, and grant such diplomas and other marks of distinction, as are usually conferred and granted by other universities; and the board of regents is hereby authorized and required to establish a preparatory department, which shall be under the control of said board of regents, as are the other departments of the university. Nothing in this section shall be construed as to require the regents to establish the several departments, other than the normal and preparatory, as herein provided, until such time as in their judgment the wants and necessities of the people require it. (Colorado Revised Statutes 23-20-11, emphasis added.)

The normal (teacher preparation) department, established by law as the only mandated university-level department at the inception of the university, was the progenitor of today's School of Education. The actions of the territorial legislature in establishing the university's role in the preparation of teachers for the schools of the state suggests a strong concern for bringing liberally educated, academically strong teachers to Colorado's schools.

At the time the University of Colorado opened in 1877, few students were prepared for college-level coursework. Although there were three high schools, only Boulder High School actually had graduates.

A Preparatory Department was established at the university and 60 students completed the program in the first 10 years. The first class of Preparatory Department graduates in 1878 became the university’s first collegiate class.

In addition to the Preparatory Department, Colorado’s General Assembly passed laws in 1877 that also required that the university set up a Normal School specifically for the preparation of teachers. This curriculum mirrored that of the Preparatory Department, but prepared students to go directly into teaching, rather than attend college.

The education faculty of the University of Colorado have been leaders in the preparation of teachers and administrators for the schools of Colorado and the nation since the appointment of Carl Besler as professor of pedagogy in 1881. (Professor Besler was the third faculty member appointed by the regents.) The first PhD in education was awarded by the university to George Clark in 1895.

Coursework from the first two years of study at the Preparatory Department and the Normal School was merged by 1883, and in 1891 the Normal School program was eliminated. By this time, a State Normal School had been established in Greeley, Colo.

The university’s College of Liberal Arts emphasized pedagogy and in 1892 established a Philosophy and Pedagogy chair. In quick succession, the Department of Philosophy and Pedagogy evolved, followed by the establishment of the Department of Psychology and Education in 1897.

The School of Education, following the direction of the state's first legislature, offered for many years a teacher preparation program based on the normal school model. The regents established the bachelor of science degree in education, based on a program of study including a strong liberal arts program; it was typically pursued by individuals wishing to teach at the elementary school level. Candidates desiring teaching positions in secondary schools generally pursued a bachelor's degree in the colleges of arts and sciences, business, or music. However, whether the candidates received a degree in education, arts and sciences, business, or music, the curriculum was always strongly based in the liberal arts, a notable exception to standard practice in institutions specifically dedicated to teacher training.

Meanwhile, by 1895, the City of Boulder constructed a building south of campus, eventually known as the University Hill Intermediate School, to manage the preparatory school functions, severing this responsibility from the university.

As education standards changed, educators and policymakers realized that teachers, especially high school teachers, needed to graduate from college, with special training in education curricula, rather than merely completing high school themselves.

In 1906, the Board of Regents approved issuing a special certificate of proficiency in teaching to students in the College of Liberal Arts who had completed specified work in education. In 1908, the regents also authorized the College of Education, then as a division of the College of Liberal Arts, to provide advanced professional training for teachers.

Finally, in 1909, the state legislature passed House Bill Number 423, which established criteria for state licensure to teach for university graduates who had passed specified education studies. As a result, college students were said to look more favorably upon teaching careers.

As more universities adopted programs to train public school teachers, the stature of teaching rose from that of a “trade” to one of a “profession.”

During its first two years, the College of Education’s attendance doubled and by 1910, there were 241 students enrolled in education classes. Of those, 170 indicated they would attain their state license requirements. 
In 1953, the College of Education moved to the new Hellems Annex building, and in 1959, the College of Education was designated as the School of Education.

In 1982, CU Boulder eliminated its bachelor's degree in education. Since then, CU Boulder students seeking elementary or secondary education licensure have been required to have a bachelor of arts degree. Following a change in state legislation, the bachelor's degree in elementary education is slated to return for fall 2017. 

In 1986, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE) directed the School of Education to transfer its graduate degrees in administration to the University of Colorado Denver campus and to discontinue its graduate programs in guidance and counseling. The faculty, together with the campus administration, took the opportunity to build the school as a center of excellence in the profession of teaching and in research relevant to educational policy. The 1986 decision by the CCHE is regarded as a turning point that forged the school's identity and propelled it into the top tier of educational research institutions in the nation.

Please see the School of Education Fast Facts page for a glimpse of today’s enrollees.

Historical information from William E. Davis’ “A Short History of Teacher Education at the University of Colorado” and Glory Colorado. We also extend additional appreciation for their assistance with research and photos to: David M. Hays, Archives, University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries; Bill Deno, former architect, CU-Boulder; Kay Oltmans, CU Heritage Center; Askcolorado.org; Jeanne Beyer, National Education Association; Norma Lawanson, Colorado Department of Education; Wendy Hall and Barbara Buchman, Carnegie Library; Marc Swadener, CU-Boulder Emeritus faculty; and Jalesa Moore, CU Boulder alumna.