The doors of the Washington State Normal School in Ellensburg opened in 1891. Mr. Benjamin Franklin Barge was the first principal of the school, which was founded to educate future elementary and junior high teachers. Classes were held at the Washington Public School until the normal school's first building, Barge Hall, opened in 1893. The normal school became Central Washington College of Education in 1937, Central Washington State College in 1961, and Central Washington University in 1977.
Today CWU is a comprehensive university that provides high quality programs to more than 13,000 people at eight locations. CWU is co-located with community colleges in Edmonds, Everett, Des Moines, Steilacoom/Puyallup, Kent, Yakima, Moses Lake, and Wenatchee, where students can complete baccalaureate degrees without leaving their communities. A new dual admission program allows community college students to be admitted to CWU when they are admitted to a college, streamlining the admissions, advising, and transfer processes. CWU also serves more students on-line than any other comprehensive university in Washington. "Finish Line" is an online campus launched in fall 2011 to enable people to complete degrees online.