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January 11, 2000


LA CROSSE, Wis.—Viterbo College will officially become America’s newest University  effective Sept. 4, the feast day of Saint Rose of Viterbo.

The announcement detailing the change was made today (Jan. 11) at Viterbo’s faculty and staff in-service held prior to the start of second semester classes.

The decision to adopt university status was approved by the Board of Directors  following discussions with campus faculty and staff, community advisors, alumni, donors, students leaders, and members of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.

"The overwhelming sentiment we heard in talking with these groups was: ‘Change to university status,’" said Dr.  William J. Medland, who has been president since 1991.

"The timing could not be more appropriate for Viterbo to adopt university designation. Viterbo already meets all of the prerequisites for university status and making this change is simply conforming to the reality of who we already  are. Nonetheless, this truly is a significant milestone in the 110 year history of this Franciscan institution," Medland added.

Viterbo was reclassified as a comprehensive institution (university) by the U.S.
Department of Education in 1994.

According to Viterbo officials, four factors weighed heavily in the decision to change to university status:

  • Enrollment in the graduate program targeted to teachers has skyrocketed: In 1990, Viterbo awarded its first 41 Master of Arts in Education degrees. A decade later, the number of teacher education graduates jumped to 309, making it one of the largest programs of its kind in the nation. This summer, approximately 400 teachers are expected to earn a Viterbo graduate degree. In 1998, Viterbo added a Master of Science in Nursing degree. A third master degree program is anticipated.
  • Viterbo has changed: In just the past 10 years, undergraduate enrollment has more than doubled and endowment has quadrupled. During that same time, Viterbo greatly expanded its regional reputation and visibility. More than 55 percent of the current freshman report their permanent address is more than 100 miles from La Crosse.
  • The change will assist in strengthening international agreements: Viterbo has recently established three new exchanges in China, Japan and Columbia. More are anticipated with institutions in other countries. Abroad, the term ‘university’ connotes four-year baccalaureate and graduate programs; ‘college’ often implies high school academy.  The use of this term "college" in international recruiting circles is confusing.
  • Viterbo already meets university criteria: Offering programs on both the graduate and undergraduate levels, Viterbo reorganized in the early 90s creating a school structure found in many university settings.

"Becoming Viterbo University makes sense," said Dr. Jack Havertape, academic vice president. "The faculty have endorsed formally the change and although our status will be different, we are determined to keep the most important aspect of Viterbo intact—that  is the commitment we have to students and the personal attention that is our trademark."

Although today’s announcement indicates the official intention to change to University status, the legal and formal university designation will occur Sept. 4.

The lead time is intended to assist the many transitions required to change from college to university status. "Logos, signage, bulletins, and paper supplies will all need to change," Medland said. "We want to ensure that we are able to phase in these changes in ways that make the most sense economically and we want to have time to do that. Between now and September, we also will have the opportunity to visit with more alumni, students and friends of Viterbo to explain our change to university status."

Faculty and staff attending the in-service luncheon and announcement, received a keepsake to commemorate the historic occasion, a desk clock which carried the imprint: "Viterbo University: A New Image for a New Millennium."

This is not the first time that Viterbo has changed its designation. In fact, it is the fifth name change since its founding by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration:

In 1890, the FSPA established Saint Rose Normal School to train the nuns and vowed religious as elementary school teachers. Later, it was referenced as Saint Rose Teacher’s College.

In 1934, after approval from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the school was formally elevated to the status of Saint Rose Junior College.

In 1937, following approval of a third year program, the school becomes Viterbo College. Two years later, four-year degrees are offered.

In 2000, Viterbo University is announced.

Viterbo is one of a growing number institutions commonly referred to as the "New American University." Many of the New American Universities were founded originally as liberal arts colleges or teacher education institutions which over the years developed undergraduate, professional and pre-professional programs, as well as graduate degree programs.

Such institutions of higher education are referenced as the "New" American Universities because the priority  of these institutions is not research but rather teaching and learning are priorities and the focus on the student is still paramount. They continue to retain their liberal arts as the foundation of all programs and continue to be value-oriented in their approach living and learning.

Viterbo is named in honor of Viterbo, Italy, the home to Saint Rose of Viterbo, the patroness of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.

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