History of William Paterson University

William Paterson University of New Jersey: An Evolution


From its beginnings as a normal school in the city of Paterson to its current achievements as a comprehensive university, William Paterson University has been dedicated to providing outstanding educational opportunities and service to the community.

The institution was founded in 1855 as the Paterson City Normal School in response to the growing demand for professional preparation of teachers-in-service in the emerging free public schools of Paterson. By 1875, the normal school had added a one-year teacher training curriculum for high school graduates seeking to become teachers, which was later increased to two years. In 1910, the school, which had changed location several times, was moved to the brand-new School No. 24 on 19th Avenue and East 22nd Street in Paterson, where it remained for 40 years.

Rapid Period of Growth
With a growing realization that the responsibility for teacher preparation should rest with the state, local educators urged the state to take over the Paterson City Normal School. In 1923 the State Legislature passed an act to establish the New Jersey State Normal School at Paterson. Its sole aim, as later described in the 1929-30 catalog, was “to develop a well-trained teacher for service in the schools of the State.”

Beginning in 1936, the school began offering general college courses to students not planning a teaching career, as well as a four-year general elementary curriculum. In April 1937, the name of the school was changed to the New Jersey State Teacher’s College at Paterson and a degree-granting curriculum was established.

The college entered a period of growth, adding an adult school (1938), a nursing program (1939), a business education curriculum (1943), a kindergarten/primary curriculum (1943), and a reading clinic (1944). The country’s involvement in World War II resulted in the establishment of a child care center and a college unit of the Red Cross.

With enrollment growing as veterans took advantage of the G.I. Bill, the college sought a new campus with room for expansion. In 1948, the state purchased for $200,000 the Wayne estate of the family of Garret Hobart, the vice president of the United States under William McKinley. The site, featuring 250 hilltop acres and a turn-of-the-century manor house, became the new home of the college in 1951.

From 1954 until 1966, the college experienced rapid expansion of the physical plant, curricula, special services for the student body, and administrative offices. The first graduate program in education was instituted in 1955. In April 1958, the institution became Paterson State College as the State Board of Education eliminated the word “teachers” from the name of each of the six state colleges, although the mission of preparing teachers continued to be the focus. Also in 1958, for the first time the college was accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.

A Multipurpose Liberal Arts Institution
With the opening of the first student residence hall in 1962, the college for the first time could enroll students living beyond commuting distance. During 1966, degree-granting programs in fields other than education were added. By then, the faculty had grown from 35 in 1954 to 212. In 1967, the college, by state mandate, was transformed into a multipurpose liberal arts institution. In 1971, the institution became The William Paterson College of New Jersey, in honor of the New Jersey patriot and statesman.

The college continued to evolve during the 1970s and 1980s, expanding its programs and facilities. In 1980, in celebration of its 125th anniversary, the college established the Distinguished Lecturer Series, a forum for speakers with national and international prominence.

Designated as a University
As the college continued to evolve its offerings, particularly on the graduate level, the college petitioned the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education for university status, which was granted on June 27, 1997, and the institution became The William Paterson University of New Jersey.

In 2001, Christos M. Cotsakos ’73 and Tami Cotsakos ’71, donated $10.5 million to the University—the largest gift in University history—to support the University’s College of Business, since renamed after its benefactor, and to endow the Cotsakos Family Scholarship in music. In 2000, the University purchased the former headquarters of Union Camp Corporation, set on 50 acres at 1600 Valley Road in Wayne. The building, which opened in 2002 following an extensive renovation, increased the University’s academic facilities by 25 percent. The University celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2005.

The University has continued to evolve. Today, William Paterson University enrolls nearly 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students, including 1,800 residential students. The University’s four colleges— Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, Cotsakos College of Business, Education, and Science and Health—support more than 150 bachelor’s degree,  master’s degree, and undergraduate and graduate certificate programs and three doctoral programs: the doctor of nursing practice (2011), the doctorate in clinical psychology (2015), and the doctor of education in leadership (2020). An Honors College provides academically gifted students with a rigorous curriculum.

In 2020, the University launched WP Online, a fully online degree platform that currently offers 57 programs in business, education, the humanities and social sciences, and healthcare, including 16 online bachelor's degree programs.

A School of Nursing was established in September 2023, reflecting the growth and impact of its nursing program, which offers programs on the bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels. Nursing student enrollment has surged to become the largest in the northern half of New Jersey and the largest among the state's public regional universities.

The University’s many accreditations include the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, Commission on the Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, National Association of Schools of Art and Design, National Association of Schools of Music, and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, among others.

The institution’s full-time faculty, who are widely respected for their teaching, research and scholarship, include Fulbright scholars, Guggenheim Fellows, and recipients of numerous other awards, grants, and fellowships. The University generated more than $12 million in federal, state, and local government grants and contracts in support of academic research and educational initiatives during the 2022-23 academic year.

University President Richard J. Helldobler joined the institution in 2018 following the retirement of President Emerita Kathleen Waldron, who served as president for eight years.

William Paterson provides learning opportunities in its classrooms, laboratories, and studios, and throughout the campus, as well as at various off-campus locations, including the adjacent High Mountain Park Preserve. It continues to expand its state-of-the-art facilities, including an expanded and renovated Science Complex, dedicated in 2012, and a new 80,000-square-foot $40 million academic building, University Hall, which opened in 2016 and was funded in part by $30 million from New Jersey’s “Building Our Future” Bond Act. An initiative to modernize the academic core of the campus included the renovation of two academic buildings, Preakness Hall, formerly Hunziker Wing, which reopened in fall 2017, and Hunziker Hall, completed in 2018. Its newest facility at 1800 Valley Road provides space for the School of Continuing and Professional Education, the Child Development Center, and expanded and new revenue-generating programs.

A Steady Rise in U.S. News & World Report's Ranking of Top Regional Universities
William Paterson University was named a Top Regional University and Best Value School in the 2024 edition of U.S. News and World Report’s Best Colleges, rising from no. 93 to no. 69 in five years
—a powerful signal to prospective students and families of the quality and value of a William Paterson education. In addition, the University ranked no. 23 in the Top Public Regional Universities-North category, and was named a Best College for Veterans, Regional Universities-North. The University was also recognized for its academic programs in nursing, business, and psychology.

Noteworthy for Diversity and Civic Engagement
William Paterson is the third most diverse public university in New Jersey and more than 40 percent of its students are the first in their families to attend college. The University is nationally recognized as both a Minority-Serving Institution with 59 percent students of color, and as a Hispanic-Serving Institution with 30 percent of its students claiming Hispanic heritage.

The University ranks 51 out of 1,449, or in the top 4.25 percent, of institutions in the country, in the 2023 Social Mobility Index, created by CollegeNet to measure the extent to which "a college or university educates more economically disadvantaged students (with family incomes below the national median) at lower tuition and graduates them into good paying jobs." In addition, the University ranked no. 21 of 166 institutions in the Regional Universities-North category for social mobility in U.S. News & World Report’s 2024 edition of Best Colleges, a gain of 44 spots since the rankings launched in 2019.

The University was nationally recognized among the top LGBTQ-friendly campuses in 2023 by the Campus Pride Index, a national listing of LGBTQ-friendly colleges and universities, with a 4.5 out of 5 rating.

In 2011, the University became the first public New Jersey college or university to require new undergraduates to take a course on civic engagement.

The University is committed to sustainability, and is a charter signatory of the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment. Its solar panel installation, dedicated in 2010, ranks among the largest at a four-year college or university in the United States.

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