St. Cloud State looks to build on its education heritage

It is widely known that St. Cloud State University’s 153-year history is tightly intertwined with that of the region and its citizens, educating generations of graduates to work among our neighbors in businesses, hospitals, schools, non-profit organizations and government.

While our distinctive academic programs now offer preparation for a broad range of careers in hundreds of fields, the roots of our university are in the education of teachers and education leaders.

Robbyn Wacker
Robbyn Wacker

We began as the Third State Normal School in 1869 after Minnesota’s early legislators wisely decided that Minnesota would benefit greatly from preparing knowledgeable educators to be hired in communities throughout the state to teach the children of farmers, merchants and professionals alike.

Evolving from a normal school to a university, we have remained true to the hopes and dreams of those early state lawmakers by giving teachers, principals, and school district administrators across the state the tools to serve the educational needs of our communities.

We are fiercely proud that our St. Cloud State education alumni are employed in at least 284 of the 312 school districts and 96 public charter schools and service cooperatives in Minnesota. Among recent graduates of St. Cloud State’s recently renamed College of Education and Learning Design (CoELD), 97 percent found jobs in Minnesota, and 56 of those were within a 50-mile radius of the campus. Of the most recent nominees for Minnesota Teacher of the Year Award, three of nine were St. Cloud State alumni.

Our CoELD leadership and its faculty are nationally renowned leaders and scholars in education programs for learners from birth through doctoral programs. Their strong presence as innovators aligns with our It’s Time Framework for boldly reimagining how St. Cloud State serves students with programs of academic distinction offering individualized student support in an environment committed to diversity, equity, access and inclusion.

Tremendous changes have occurred in education since our normal school opened its doors to 50 students. The CoELD is a leader in the state by offering programming for 44 teacher licenses, four administrative certifications (Principal, Superintendent, Community Education Director and Special Education Director); as well as two doctoral programs in Educational Administration and Higher Education.

Our education programs have continuously responded to the needs of learners with innovations in clinical practice that stem from the Lab School of the 1960s. Building on this strong foundation, and in response to the latest research showing the need for more and better early childhood education, plans are in the works for the Lindgren Early Learning Center to expand its reach – to impact more community children with the kind of early learning advantages that will prepare them for greater success as they continue through school.

The CoELD is led by Dean Jennifer Mueller, who has stated that “ultimately it is our moral and ethical responsibility to build better, more equitable education systems and to prepare high-quality education professionals, ready for innovation and not-yet-imagined possibilities.” With fewer resources and greater challenges, the College’s faculty and staff have more than met the expectations of those early legislators who wanted all Minnesotans to have access to the best quality education.

The current Education Building will turn 50 this year, and SCSU has proposed consideration of a new College of Education and Learning Design Complex to advance innovation and community-centered educator preparation. The complex would have the appropriate facilities to lead in innovation and equality of educational opportunity. It would be a game changer for the students who aspire to be teachers and leaders in education and for the schools, universities and communities they will serve.

The design principles proposed for such a facility would encourage robust engagement across many types of active learning spaces, from the formal classroom to interactive educational learning environments. Spaces will be available to allow for the kind of collaborative learning, private study, and faculty scholarship that identifies effective and cutting-edge teaching strategies.

The facility will have state-of-the-art technology necessary for online teaching to increase program access for non-traditional aged students, thereby expanding the number of teaching professionals in Minnesota. This is vitally important as the state of Minnesota reported in 2021 that 70 percent of Minnesota school districts reported being “somewhat or very significantly” impacted by the teacher shortage.

With such a facility designed for innovative teaching and learning, we will attract and recruit the best and brightest future educators. These students will experience new opportunities in clinical practice and educator preparation in a facility with a configuration that is flexible, energy efficient, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant and allows for necessary technology upgrades throughout.

These are challenging times in education that call for the kind of imagination, foresight and bold vision in teacher education all of Minnesota’s schools deserve. It’s time to give them and our future students a facility where they can continue to fulfill the vision of our state’s early leaders.

— This is the opinion of St. Cloud State University President Robbyn Wacker. To A Higher Degree is published the fourth Sunday of the month and features perspectives from presidents of Central Minnesota's four largest institutions of higher education.

This article originally appeared on St. Cloud Times: St. Cloud State looks to build on its education heritage