Preparatory Department

The Beginning

The Preparatory Department at Luther College started with the college 1861 and continued until 1928.

Strengthening and Separation

Although there is very little information about the beginning of the Preparatory Department along with the beginning of the college itself, there was a clear strengthening of the program in the 1870s and 1880s. Originally the college was split into two Sextas, in which Sexta A were the more traditional college students and Sexta B contained those students with no high school education, aged 10-20 (Luther, 92). They needed the department at Luther College because there had been no public high school in the Decorah area. In the 1876-1877 school year however, the department began to separate itself from the higher college. One example of this lies with tuition. Students at Luther College, at this time, did not pay tuition but the students of the Preparatory Department were charged $30 for the first two years, $20 for the first year and $10 for the second year (Chips, 1888). By 1889 the separation was complete when Luther College became a six year institution, mostly because of the extensive language requirements. These six years were split with the Preparatory department as the lowest three were considered Prep and the higher three considered college (Luther, 145). Professor Herman W. Sheel was elected as the principal and a new organization was developed around the department (Luther, 145). Sheel was succeeded by Gisle Bothne (Luther, 145).

Rules, Class, and Teachers

As the students of the Preparatory Department were younger than those of the college students, they naturally had stricter rules. One such rule was a ban on Saturday night trips to town, as the students were considered too young and irresponsible for such an honor (Luther, 195). In terms of class, by 1891, the schedule had loosened up allowing for a more flexible study. Before, the classes had been regimented with very little room for elective work but with the new class schedule, they were allowed some decision making. Also at this time, the junior and senior classes were split to allow for smaller class sizes. However this split required for more teachers. Luther College President C. K. Preus, and President Oscar Olson, devised a new system for the teachers of the Preparatory Department. After the college graduation, certain high ability graduates would be hired immediately to start teaching in the Preparatory Department. If they taught well, they would soon be asked to become full-fledged professors (Stability, 63).

The Ending

By the 1920s, enrollment in the Preparatory Department had dwindled due to the rising number of public high schools. They were no longer making enough money to pay for the teachers and housing for all the students. By 1928 there were only two-dozen students left in the Preparatory Department and it was decided that this would be the last year (Stability, 63).


In 1921 the Luther College Preparatory Department had supplied the Norwegian church with over 500 pastors. This was the equivalent of how many students out of 18,000 high schools went on the become pastors (Chips, 1921). The incredible numbers show Luther College's early dedication to church education beginning in the Preparatory Department through to the College graduate.


Luther College Archives


Nelson, David T., Luther College 1861-1961, Luther College Press, Decorah: 1961.

Jordahl, Leigh D. and Harris E. Kaasa, Stability and Change: Luther College in Its Second Century, Luther College Press, Decorah: 1986.

College Chips

Oct. 1888, pg 2

Sept. 1891, pg. 98

Oct. 1921, pg 285