Mission and History


Western Michigan University is a learner-centered, research university, building intellectual inquiry and discovery into undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs in a way that fosters knowledge and innovation, and transforms wisdom into action. As a public university, WMU provides leadership in teaching, research, learning, and service, and is committed to enhancing the future of our global citizenry.


Nationally and internationally recognized, the University aspires to distinguish itself as learner centered, discovery driven, and globally engaged.

  • Learner centered

    Western Michigan University is a university where every member of our community is responsive to and responsible for the education of our students. We challenge and engage all members of our community with a university experience that creates skilled, life-long learners.

  • Discovery driven

    Western Michigan University offers experiences that enable discovery, and promote creativity and research. We are committed to pursuing inquiry, disseminating knowledge, and fostering critical thinking that encourages life-long learning. Our scholarship creates new knowledge, forms a basis for innovative solutions, leads to economic development, and makes substantial contributions to society.

  • Globally engaged

    Western Michigan University impacts the globe positively. We are a community of learners committed to human dignity, sustainability, social responsibility, and justice. Our campus embraces a diverse population of students, faculty and staff who develop learners and leaders who are locally oriented and globally competent, culturally aware and ready to contribute to world knowledge and discovery.

The synergy of these three pillars enables WMU to be a premier and distinctive university of choice. Western Michigan University offers all students a learning community designed for and dedicated to their success. We are committed to access and affordability, and sustaining an environment in which every student can meet the world head-on and triumph.

Major milestones in WMU history

Photo of WMU's two trolleys in operation.

Grateful riders were able to use the "Normal Railroad" year-round for nearly 40 years.

May 27, 1903—WMU is established by an act of the Michigan Legislature as a preparatory school for teachers and named Western State Normal School.

1904—The first classes are offered, with 117 students enrolled.

1905—Two-year teaching certificates are awarded at the first commencement.

1908—Michigan’s shortest standard-gauge rail route opened on the northeast corner of what is now Heritage Hall, with a double-track rail bed running up Prospect Hill from Davis Street. The Normal Railroad, affectionately known as “the trolley,” was powered by a stationary electric motor at the top of the hill and was in operation until 1947.

1909—The first regional location opens in Grand Rapids.

1920—The first bachelor’s degrees are awarded.

Photo of the 1924 band assembled outside in a “W” formation.

The “W” formation has been a staple of Western bands at least as far back as 1924.

1939—The school nickname is changed from the Hilltoppers to the Broncos.

1953—The first master’s degrees are awarded.

Feb. 26, 1957—WMU becomes the state’s fourth public university and receives its fifth and final name.

1968—The first doctoral degrees are awarded.

1997—A chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, America’s premier honor society, is established at WMU.

2000—WMU is classified as a research university by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

2012—A private nonprofit medical school is launched by WMU, Kalamazoo’s two world-class teaching hospitals and community philanthropists. Two years later, the newly named WMU Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine enrolls its first class of students.

2014—WMU affiliates with the nation’s most diverse private nonprofit law school, forming the WMU Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

Photo of three 2016 football fans making the "W" symbol with their hands.

Bronco fans turned out in record numbers for the 2016-17 football season.

2015—Heritage Hall opens atop East Campus’ Prospect Hill. Formerly named East Hall, the 1905 structure was extensively renovated to take it from being the oldest and least energy-efficient building on campus to one of the most energy-efficient buildings in southwest Michigan.

2017—WMU’s Cotton Bowl appearance marks only the second time that a Mid-American Conference football team was selected for a New Year’s Six bowl game. Although the undefeated, No. 15-ranked Broncos lost the contest by eight points to No. 8 Wisconsin, the 2016-17 team ended its season with 73 program records broken.