Our History

Our History

The School of Education and Social Policy began as a traditional school of education and has transformed over the years into a world-class college of learning and leadership with an expanded mission, innovative programs, and far-reaching impact. Originally focused primarily on school-based learning and teacher training, SESP now rigorously tackles new education and large societal problems such as developing lifelong learners; using new technologies to foster learning; improving the lives of children in poverty; and creating equitable opportunities for everyone.

1850 - 1899

  • 1851: Northwestern University is founded with Old College its first and only building.

  • 1888:
    Northwestern offers education courses for the first time.


  • 1906: Department of Education begins in the College of Liberal Arts.
  • 1926: A separate School of Education opens, expanding to a four-year program; John Stout becomes the first dean.
  • 1941: The School of Education’s first research doctorate degree program (EdD) is offered, emphasizing research. Music and speech education move to the respective schools.
  • 1953-63: The School expands as a traditional school of education with more faculty; programs in home economics, health, gifted education; and a master’s in teaching (1961).
  • 1963-78: With Dean B. J. Chandler, a new curriculum, Tutorial Clinical Program, replaces methods courses. Upward Bound brings inner-city high school students to campus in the summer.


  • 1972: The Old College is struck by lightning, and the School moves to Arthur Andersen Hall.
  • 1974: The Human Development in Non-School Settings program founded, paving the way for the Human Development and Social Policy program.
  • 1981: The groundbreaking Human Development and Social Policy (HDSP) doctoral program is founded by Bernice L. Neugarten, highlighting the contributions of psychology, sociology and economics toward understanding human development throughout life and how it is shaped by policies and institutions.

  • 1982: The Center for Talent Development (originally called Midwest Talent Search) is founded.

    1982: The Master of Science in Education program is launched.

  • 1986: The School of Education is renamed the School of Education and Social Policy

  • 1989: The interdisciplinary Learning Sciences program begins, seeking to understand learning and teaching environments and design learning innovations, eventually becoming a model for similar programs at other universities.



1991: The Learning Sciences PhD program, the first of its kind, is founded.

1993: Annenberg Hall opens and becomes SESP’s new home.

1997-2017: During Penelope Peterson’s 20-year deanship, SESP cemented itself as one of the world's most eminent school in its domain areas. The School advanced its identity as interdisciplinary and research-based, and new partnerships, initiatives, faculty, and research grants strengthened the School.

1998: Partnering with the Golden Apple Foundation and Inner-City Teaching Corps, the NU-TEACH alternative route to teacher certification is established.


  • 2000: The Service Learning and Civic Education programs build on the spirit of volunteerism at Northwestern.

    2002: The Master’s program in Learning and Organizational Change, the first of its type, is established.

    2002: US News and World Report first ranks SESP among the nation’s top ten schools of education; SESP has consistently ranked among the top schools of education – despite being unlike any other education school – ever since.

    2004: The School wins the highly competitive Institute for Education Sciences predoctoral training grant to establish the Multidisciplinary Program in Education Sciences. SESP’s training grant has been renewed three additional times, most recently in 2020; no institution in the nation has won this training grant more often.

    2005: Under the leadership of Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, Cells to Society: The Center on Social Disparities and Health, part of the Institute for Policy Research, is created to work on social inequalities in health and education.

    2009: SESP establishes the Baxter Center for Science Education in conjunction with Lindblom Math and Science Academy (and later also Round Lake High School) and the Baxter International Foundation to promote student success in STEM education and career pathways.

    2011: The Master of Science in Higher Education Administration and Policy program becomes its own program. Previously, it had been a concentration within the Master of Science in Education program.

    2016: The first-of-its-kind undergraduate program in Learning Sciences admits its first students. At the graduate level, SESP launches the nation’s first joint learning sciences/computer science doctoral program.

    2017: Professor David Figlio is named SESP dean.

    2018 - The Office of Community Education Partnerships is formed, bringing together research, teaching, and service missions to improve learning and well-being in our home communities of Evanston and Chicago, and beyond. The office previously served as the Office for STEM Education Partnerships.

    2018 - SESP establishes the Center for Excellence in Computer Science in collaboration with Apple and Chicago Public Schools.

    2018: The Northwestern-Evanston Education Research Alliance, a research-practice partnership between Northwestern and Evanston schools and supported by the Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation and the Spencer Foundation, is formalized.

    2018: Professor Larry Hedges wins the second Yidan Prize for Research, the world’s largest education prize. Northwestern hosts the 2019 Yidan Prize Conference Series: The Americas.

    2021: The first cohort of students (43) enroll in an innovative dual-degree applied economics and social and economic policy master’s program offered by SESP and The Chinese University of Hong Kong’s (CUHK) Department of Economics.

    2021: SESP receives a $5.8-million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support the Center for Education Efficacy, Excellence and Equity, a research-practice partnership.

    2022: A multimillion-dollar gift is made to the School of Education and Social Policy for Northwestern Academy for Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in honor of Northwestern President Morton Schapiro. It is the largest gift in School history. The academy, established in 2013, is renamed the Morton Schapiro Northwestern Academy for Chicago Public Schools.

    2022: Professor Dan McAdams is named interim dean after Dean David Figlio assumes a new role as provost at the University of Rochester.