While Concordia was termed a college at its inception, the school operated as an academy in its early years.
In reference to Concordia College, an 1891 newspaper advertisement states:
“A preparatory school for both sexes. Comprises a business, a practical, and a classical course. Teaches the principles of Christianity, also English, Norwegian, German, Latin, Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, Physiology, Physics, Botany, Geography, History, Civil Government, Book-keeping and Commercial Law.”
While Concordia had been termed a “college” since its inception, the school operated as an academy in that its curricular programs were confined to two years of study. Many other academies opened during the late 1800s and early 1900s, offering similar programs to Concordia, including Bruflat Academy (Portland, N.D.); Hope Academy (Moorhead, Minn.); Grand Forks College (Grand Forks, N.D.); and Park Region Luther College (Fergus Falls, Minn.). These academies, in particular Park Region Luther College, played an instrumental role in shaping Concordia’s future.
Park Region Luther College (PRLC) was incorporated on March 31, 1892, and opened on Oct. 16, 1892. The mission of PRLC was to educate Norwegian Lutherans while still accepting those students who desired a Christian education. Similar to Concordia, PRLC offered an academic and commercial course for its students. Originally, PRLC occupied the Bjorklund Manufacturing Co. building in Fergus Falls, which was renovated to provide classrooms and offices on the first and second floors and dorm rooms for male students on the third floors. Due to the lack of space, female students boarded with local families until a building was rented to house them a few years later. A new structure for the school was built in 1901 to provide much needed space for the growing student body.
In 1909, Park Region Luther College implemented a four-year college program and awarded its first degree in 1912. During this same time frame, Concordia leaders realized a need for creating a college program that would extend study to four years. By 1915, Concordia had developed a four-year program and graduated its first students in 1917. This same year the Hauge, Norwegian, and United synods merged to form the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America. The newly formed synod was not interested in supporting both PRLC and Concordia due to their close proximity and similar curriculum. President Aasgaard, a visionary who recognized the importance of a college curriculum at Concordia, convened Moorhead residents and persuaded them of the merger’s importance not only for Concordia but also for the city. Moorhead citizens rallied and pledged to raise $30,000 to clear Concordia’s debt incurred from balancing operating costs with interest payments and repair costs.
When synod leaders came for a visit to Concordia, they were enthused by the elimination of debt due to the donations of local citizens. The leaders were further persuaded by the large Scandinavian population and the access to railroads, both of which demonstrated the opportunity for growth at Concordia. As a result, PRLC’s college program was dropped and moved to Concordia. Concordia dropped its normal and parochial courses along with an English course for foreigners. Concordia’s academy program was deemed to end when college attendance reached 200.
Despite this agreement, many PRLC college students did not attend Concordia due to both hard feelings and fears that Concordia would not survive. PRLC continued to operate as an academy successfully for a number of years. In 1924, the school’s junior college program was accredited. The Great Depression, however, hit PRLC hard. A Sept. 11, 1931, Washington Post article states that PRLC was accepting grain in exchange for tuition. The school eventually closed in 1932 due to financial strain.
While PRLC no longer exists, the school had a great influence on Concordia. For a short time, Concordia’s yearbook was named The Scout after a PRLC student publication. Former PRLC students also organized societies at Concordia that had previously existed at PRLC, such as Alpha Epsilon Sigma. Many notable PRLC professors transferred to Concordia, including Christian E. Bale (English, 1917-1952), Charles Skalet (Classical Languages, 1923-1962) and Herman Nordlie (History, 1917-1954).
– Contributed by Lisa Sjoberg, college archivist