Waldorf is shaped by the values and beliefs of its Norwegian Lutheran founders: veracity, discipline, the dignity and responsibility of the individual, a commitment to service, and faith in God.
The university was founded in 1903 as a result of “The Great Hotel War of Forest City.” This fierce, competitive battle between the two first-class hotels, built simultaneously, left the beautiful Waldorf Hotel vacant after only four months of operation. This provided the opportunity for the Rev. C. S. Salveson to muster the necessary resources to found a Christian college. Thus, Waldorf University came to be located on a prominent corner in the center of Forest City, and the 50-plus acre campus has grown up around this original, and still beautiful, building now called Salveson Hall.
Unlike several other Lutheran colleges founded by Norwegian immigrants and the first generation of their progeny, Waldorf began operation as an academy and business college rather than as a preparatory program primarily for future pastors.
From its earliest days, Waldorf viewed education sponsored by the church as vital for persons who would serve primarily in secular society. The Waldorf emphasis was fundamentally a “stewardship emphasis”: human lives are viewed as a gift from God, and the educational enterprise offers the opportunity for the full flowering of one’s potential. The Waldorf mission has always stressed service to others as the means to achieve fulfilling lives.
Whether as future business leaders, teachers, professors, scientists, entrepreneurs, ordained clergy, psychologists or musicians, it is hoped that Waldorf graduates will aspire to lives of service.
Since 1920, when Waldorf became a junior college, the curriculum has gradually evolved to fully reflect a liberal arts emphasis. Now, nearly all students enroll with the intent of ultimately earning a bachelor’s degree. In the spring of 1994, the college was accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools to offer its first bachelor’s degrees.
Waldorf became a fully accredited bachelor’s degree granting college in February 2001.
The core of the liberal arts program has as its goals that students:
- Learn to think, write and speak clearly;
- Begin the process of developing a mature and inquiring mind, with the ability to formulate questions, solve problems and make both intellectual and value judgments;
- Engage in and appreciate the arts;
- Acquire understanding of our historical and scientific heritage;
- Begin to develop an appreciation of other cultures and their ways of knowing;
- And consider their religious commitments for their meaning in life and the world in which they live and serve.
During January of 2010, Waldorf University joined the Columbia Southern Education Group (CSEG) family as the first traditional campus school. The second academic institution operated by CSEG is Columbia Southern University (CSU), an online university offering associate, bachelor's, master's and certificate programs. CSEG was created to help both schools share resources and expertise.
In January 2010, Waldorf leveraged its partnership with CSU to launch its first three online programs. Today, Waldorf offers a full slate of certificate, associate, bachelor's and master's degree programs – all completely online – in addition to the programs offered on campus.
In December 2022, Waldorf University finalized the transfer of ownership to the Waldorf Lutheran College Foundation. The change of ownership allows Waldorf to return to its private, faith-based, non-profit roots. The institution will leverage the growth of the previous twelve years with the benefits of being a non‐profit organization while also opening potential professional association.
Waldorf University faculty are dedicated to the goals and tenets of liberal arts education. The development of an appreciation of “a life of the mind” ought to begin in the home and school, be further nurtured at Waldorf, continue in studies at Waldorf, and become a lifelong process.
We believe the success of the Waldorf program results from the interplay of several characteristics:
- Dedicated, capable faculty who take pride in effective teaching and who share a personal commitment to the faith, values and traditions of the college;
- Low student-to-faculty ratio, permitting a high level of faculty/student interaction;
- Solid curricular offerings in a variety of disciplines, enabling students to begin to clarify career goals;
- An environment in which faith and values are a subject of inquiry, and one in which growth toward moral maturity is a valued goal;
- Special emphasis on writing, speaking, and global awareness;
- Solid tradition in the fine arts, coupled with a lively program of cultural events;
- And a broad program of varsity and intramural sports to help students shape a life of enrichment and physical well being.
Lux et Veritas, reads the motto on the official Seal of the University — ”Light and Truth.”