History

The story of Walden University is a story of effecting change. Our founders established the university in 1970 to provide working professionals with the access and support they needed to earn their degree, no matter the obstacles they faced. That mission has driven us ever since, leading us to pioneer online learning in the 1990s and perfect it over the decades that have followed. Walden was among the first universities to launch online courses, and today we’re continuing to evolve what education can be, finding new ways to give students the flexibility, support, and top-level education they need to change their lives and improve the world around them. It’s a history worth celebrating—and retelling through the inspiring stories of our students and graduates.

1971 - Ratification of the 26th amendment, lowering the voting age to 18.

1972 - Ray Tomlinson invents e-mail for sending messages between computer users.

1979 - Creation of the U.S. Department of Education under President Jimmy Carter.

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1970s: Walden Revolutionizes Distance Learning
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1970

Walden University founded.

Walden was founded by Bernie and Rita Turner to help working teachers and school administrators finish their doctoral degrees.

1971

First classes held in Naples, Florida, at the Cove Inn.

The inaugural Summer Session residency focused on helping students form their dissertation topics so that in the fall they could go back to their schools prepared to begin work on their dissertations.

1972

Dr. Harold “Bud” Hodgkinson is appointed first dean of Walden University.

Dr. Harold “Bud” Hodgkinson, renowned author, lecturer, educator, and demographer, was a member of the first Summer Session as well as a collaborator with Bernie and Rita Turner in defining what Walden was to become. His essay “Walden U: A Working Paper” outlined his vision for a new kind of university and was influential in shaping the Turners’ thinking about how to structure Walden.

1972

First commencement ceremony is held.

Walden University awarded its first degrees at a ceremony at the Cove Inn dubbed the Ceremony of Honor for New Holders of Doctoral Degrees. Forty-six PhDs and 24 EdDs were conferred upon Walden’s first graduates.

1979

Walden earns license to grant doctorates from Minnesota Higher Education Coordinating Board.

As an early nontraditional university, Walden had to work hard to earn licensure, but when the Minnesota Higher Education Coordinating Board approved Walden to grant doctoral degrees, it was only the second institution in Minnesota to receive this approval.

1980 - Ronald Reagan elected U.S. president. Concern for the country’s standing in the world leads him to push for massive educational reforms.

1981 - Sandra Day O'Connor sworn in as first female Supreme Court justice.

1982 - U.S. Supreme Court rules in Board of Education vs. Pico that school libraries cannot remove books because administrators find them to be offensive.

1989 - Tim Berners-Lee invents World Wide Web.

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1980s: Walden Embraces Social Change
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1982

Walden moves headquarters to Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Walden moves academic and administrative offices to Minneapolis, Minnesota. The financial office remained in Naples, Florida.

1984

Social change curriculum established.

Walden was founded on the belief that everyone should have access to higher education because education drives positive social change. While this value guided the university since its inception, 1984 was the year that Walden’s mission of social change was formally integrated into curricula across the institution.

1987

New individualized doctoral program launched.

The new individualized doctoral program, developed by Vice President of Academic Affairs Bruce Francis, based on work by Dr. Frederic Hudson, consisted of three parts: a Professional Development Plan (PDP), a Knowledge Area Module (KAM), and a dissertation.

1987

The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association grants Walden candidacy status.

Founded in 1895, the NCA was one of six regional accrediting bodies in the U.S. recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Walden was granted candidacy status on February 27, 1987.

1989

Dr. Harold Abel becomes Walden’s second president.

Dr. Harold Abel took a leave of absence from his position as president of Central Michigan University to become president of Walden after Bernie Turner stepped down from the role. During his two-year tenure, Dr. Abel led Walden through the final stages of obtaining full accreditation from HLC NCA.

1990 - First Gulf War starts.

1994 - Amazon.com launched.

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1990s: Walden Proves the Value of Distance Learning
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1990

Walden is granted accreditation.

The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association (NCA) of Colleges and Schools grants accreditation to Walden.

1991

Glendon Drake is named president of Walden.

After Dr. Abel's two-year leave of absence from Central Michigan University expired, Drake served as president until the Turners sold Walden to Chandelle Ventures of Naples, Florida, an investment banking firm started by venture capitalist Don Ackerman.

1992

Bernie and Rita Turner retire from Walden University.

When they retired, Bernie and Rita Turner were proud of the legacy they’d be leaving with Walden University. As Rita told Wade Keller, author of Aspire Toward the Highest: Bernie and Rita Turner and the Founding of Walden University, “Against all odds, Walden had succeeded in redesigning the ‘holiest’ of all traditional degrees, the PhD, and had kept its promise to the students and faculty.”

1994

Lt. Gen. Dave Palmer named president of Walden.

Lt. Gen. Palmer graduated from West Point in 1956, entering the U.S. Army at the height of the Cold War. He served as superintendent of West Point from 1986 to 1991, when he retired from the Army before assuming the presidency of Walden.

1995

Turners awarded honorary doctorates at 25th Commencement Ceremony.

On July 8, 1995, Bernie and Rita Turner were awarded honorary doctorates. These honorary degrees recognized their work in expanding access to higher education.

1995

Walden begins offering the first fully online master's program in education.

The program was an MS in Educational Change and Technology Innovation. It was the first completely online master’s degree in education in the U.S.

1999

Kent Morrison becomes president of Walden University.

Morrison, an expert on China, came to Walden from The University of Rhode Island, where he’d been dean of the graduate school until 1995. He joined Walden as vice president of academic affairs the same year and was named president in 1999.

2001 - Wikipedia launched.

2001 - September 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.

2004 - Facebook founded.

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2000s: Walden Leads the Way in Online Learning
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2000

First distance-learning university to be categorized “research intensive”.

The Carnegie Classifications of Institutions of Higher Education® recognized the level of research expected of students by classifying the university as “research intensive.” At the time, no other distance-learning university had received the classification.

2001

Sylvan Learning Systems makes first investment in Walden.

In February 2001, Sylvan Ventures, the investment arm of Sylvan Learning Systems, purchased 41% of Walden University.

2002

Dr. Robert Scales becomes president of Walden University.

Dr. Robert Scales, a retired major general, had a distinguished military career, serving as both deputy chief of staff for doctrine training and doctrine command at Fort Monroe, Virginia, and as commander of the U.S. Army War College.

2003

Dr. Paula Peinovich named president of Walden University.

Dr. Paula Peinovich spent her career before Walden working to expand access to education to underserved populations. Prior to becoming university president, Dr. Peinovich served as provost at Walden.

2004

Walden University becomes part of the Laureate Education, Inc. network of universities.

Laureate Education announced the acquisition of the remaining 49% of Walden University on September 16, 2004, making Walden the flagship online institution in its rapidly growing network of international universities.

2005

Walden merges with National Technological University.

National Technological University (NTU) was an institution with a 20-year history of providing graduate-level education to both engineers and computer professionals around the world. The merger was announced on July 6, 2005.

2006

Diverse ranks Walden as top granter of master's degrees and doctorates to minority students in the U.S.

In a survey of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and traditionally white institutions (TWIs) published in July 2006, the magazine Diverse: Issues in Higher Education ranked Walden University a top producer of master’s and doctoral minority graduates in psychology, business, and all disciplines combined.

2006

First fully online School of Public Policy and Administration launched.

Walden launches the School of Public Policy and Administration in order to address an urgent need to develop a larger pool of professionals with enhanced critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, and cultural competence.

2007

Jonathan A. Kaplan, JD, named president of Walden.

Before joining Walden, Kaplan held a number of positions in local, state, and federal government, including three years as President Bill Clinton’s economic policy advisor. He first joined Laureate Education as COO for North America and South America.

2008

Magazine ranks Walden in top 20 for higher education of Hispanics.

In May 2008, The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, the only Hispanic-focused magazine for the higher education community, placed Walden University on its list of top 20 colleges and universities (out of 4,100 U.S. institutions) for Hispanic enrollment in master’s programs and overall graduate education.

2008

Walden launches fully online teacher preparation program.

Pioneering the way aspiring teachers can prepare for certification, Walden introduced a Master of Arts in Teaching option and specializations in Early Childhood Education and Special Education that created a fully online path for students who wanted to prepare for a teaching career.

2010 - iPad released.

2015 - NASA's New Horizons spacecraft performs a close flyby of Pluto.

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2010s: Walden Builds Toward the Future
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2010

CCNE accredits Walden’s BSN program.

Walden’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN) Completion Program received accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) in its first year of eligibility. CCNE is a national accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

2010

Walden University Alumni Association formed.

Walden currently has more 141,000 alumni in more than 160 countries around the world. Graduates of Walden can maintain their connection to the university by participating in local alumni chapters, becoming part of the Walden Alumni Ambassador program, or sharing their stories in Walden magazine.

2011

Walden leads in granting doctorates to African Americans in the U.S.

According to data collected by the National Science Foundation, Walden University produced the greatest number of African American doctoral degree recipients in 2011.

2011

Walden receives accreditation for its business programs.

The Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs awards Walden University initial accreditation of its business programs.

2012

Dr. Cynthia G. Baum named president of Walden.

On February 1, 2012, Walden announced Dr. Cynthia G. Baum’s appointment as the university's ninth president. Prior to being named president, Dr. Baum served as vice president overseeing Walden's five colleges and previously served as vice president of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and College of Health Sciences at Walden.

2012

The Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership and its educator preparation programs accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).

On May 14, 2012, Walden announced that the college had received accreditation from NCATE, the recognized accreditor for professional education for the preparation of teachers, administrators, and other P–12 education professionals.

2013

Walden receives reaffirmation of regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), which grants accreditation to Walden for 10 more years.

The HLC accredits degree-granting postsecondary educational institutions in the north central region of the U.S. It is one of six regional accrediting associations recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. The HLC was created to develop and maintain high standards of academic excellence.

2013

Walden’s MS in Project Management receives accreditation.

The Project Management Institute (PMI)® Global Accreditation Center (GAC) for Project Management Education Programs grants programmatic accreditation, affirming that Walden’s graduate-level project management curriculum meets rigorous quality standards to help prepare students to advance in the field.

2013

DNP program receives CCNE accreditation.

The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) is an autonomous national accrediting agency that ensures the quality and integrity of baccalaureate, graduate, and residency programs in nursing.

2013

50th Commencement held in Minneapolis.

Walden celebrates its 50th Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, August 17, 2013, at the Minneapolis Convention Center, with more than 600 graduates and 2,800 guests estimated to be in attendance.

2014

Jonathan A. Kaplan, JD, named president of Walden for the second time.

Kaplan was the first person to serve two separate tenures as president of Walden University. His first tenure began in 2007.

2014

Counseling programs receive CACREP accreditation.

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is the recognized standard of excellence in professional counseling education both in the U.S. and around the world.

2014

Dr. Condoleezza Rice speaks at Walden commencement.

Dr. Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state, addresses more than 1,100 graduates and 5,500 guests, faculty, administrators, and staff attending Walden University’s 52nd Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, July 12, 2014, at the Gaylord National Resort near Washington, D.C.

2014

Laureate International Universities leverages Walden’s online expertise.

Throughout the 2010s, Laureate International Universities built upon Walden’s online learning expertise to expand education opportunities around the world, providing online coursework for more than 1.4 million students globally.

2015

MSW program receives CSWE accreditation.

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is the sole accrediting agency for social work education in the U.S. On December 15, 2015, Walden announced that its Master of Social Work program received accreditation from the agency. CSWE accreditation streamlines the state licensure process for graduates and provides them with greater access to professional opportunities.

2015

Walden is designated as a Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education.

The National Security Agency (NSA) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designate Walden University as a National Center of Academic Excellence (CAE) in Cyber Defense Education in recognition of the university’s quality and relevance in the information assurance (IA) and cyber defense (CD) disciplines.

2015

Approval to offer direct assessment competency-based education.

Walden was just the sixth institution in the United States approved by the U.S. Department of Education to offer direct assessment competency-based education.

2015

Nation’s first competency-based master’s program in early childhood education.

Following Walden’s approval to provide direct assessment competency-based education, the university became the first to offer the learning model in a master’s program in early childhood education, giving students unprecedented flexibility in their learning.

2016

The Online Learning Consortium (OLC) recognizes Walden’s excellence.

Acknowledging the quality inherent in Walden’s student and faculty support services and digital learning advancements, the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) recognized the university with a total of six Effective Practice Awards.

2017

Center for Social Change founded.

The mission of the Walden University Center for Social Change is to be a connective hub that promotes, facilitates, and supports collaborative partnerships, action research, and projects that lead to purposeful action for sustainable positive social change.

2017

Walden becomes a Certified B Corporation®.

Committed to making a positive impact in the world, Walden became a Certified B Corporation® in 2017. The certification process determines if a company has met rigorous standards of social and environmental impact, accountability, and transparency based on criteria established by B Lab, an independent nonprofit organization.

2018

First online university to use simulations.

Walden developed technology that allows instructors in master’s programs to interact with computer-generated but human-controlled student avatars in situations that mimic physical classroom experiences.

2018

Virtual reality field training tool developed.

Walden developed technology to give students in its social work program the chance to experience scenarios social workers encounter. Since the successful pilot, Walden has brought the technology to other programs.

2018

AI chatbot Charlotte introduced.

To make life even easier for students, Walden introduced Charlotte, an AI virtual assistant chatbot that is now able to perform 80 different functions. Charlotte provides students with answers to essential questions and can take care of a range of tasks when asked to do so.

2019

Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) program receives CSWE accreditation.

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is the sole accrediting agency for social work education in the U.S.

2019

Walden receives CAEP accreditation.

On July 15, 2019, Walden announced that it had achieved accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), the sole nationally recognized accrediting body for educator preparation. Of approximately 1,200 educator preparation programs in the United States, fewer than 250 have earned this distinction.

2019

Dr. Ward Ulmer named president of Walden.

On April 17, 2019, Walden University’s Board of Directors named Dr. Ward Ulmer president. Prior to his appointment, he served in several leadership roles at Walden. Dr. Ulmer holds a BSc in Business Administration, an MA in Computer Resources and Information Management, a PhD in Higher Education Leadership, and a PhD in Applied Management and Decision Sciences.

2019

School of Lifelong Learning established.

Expanding its education offerings, the university established the School of Lifelong Learning, which offers single courses, short courses, and microlearning experiences that range in intensity and length—from a couple of hours to a full semester.

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