The Evolution of NLU
In 1886, National Louis University began as a radical idea for its time: a college to train women as kindergarten teachers. Our visionary founder, Elizabeth Harrison, believed that the future prosperity of a community began with the education of its youngest children. She also believed that teaching was a noble and difficult profession that demanded a college degree. As Chicago grew from a prairie outpost to an icon of American diversity and industry, NLU evolved from its beginnings as Miss Harrison’s Training School into a full university and one of the most respected “teacher of teachers” in the region.
Today, NLU is the outcome of and testament to the vision of our founders. It is a contemporary university committed to innovation and best practices in both undergraduate and graduate education. A university that excels in creating learning communities where theory complements practice, NLU sustains an 125-year tradition of access to higher education for first-generation and urban university students who want to make a lasting impact in their lives and in their communities.
Landmark moments in the creation and evolution of National Louis University:
1886 – Elizabeth Harrison has a radical idea for her time: create a college to train women to teach kindergarten primarily in immigrant communities. Harrison opens Miss Harrison’s Training School at the Loring School on Prairie Avenue in Chicago. The modern American kindergarten movement begins.
1894 – Harrison and her colleagues and their freshly renamed Chicago Kindergarten College launch the first in a series of convocations to connect mothers with their children’s teachers in the public schools. Those meetings lead to the 1897 founding of the National College of Mothers, later renamed the Parent Teacher Association (PTA).
1906 – The Chicago Kindergarten College incorporates as a non-profit entity and moves to a new location on Michigan Ave. The school pioneers educational delivery systems by offering branch classes in other cities, as well as a correspondence course. This dedication to supporting students in where and how they learn best remains a central mission of NLU.
1930 – The college changes its name for a final time, becoming the National College of Education, and introduces the first four-year teacher-training program in Illinois.
1982 – As the National College of Education (NCE) offers a broadening range of advanced degrees, it finds that students require supporting coursework in arts and sciences content areas. Thanks to the generous financial support of philanthropist Michael W. Louis, a separate College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) is established offering degree programs in fine arts, English, applied languages, psychology, public policy, social sciences and more.
1986 – Michael W. Louis makes a historic, $30 million donation to the NCE, among the largest gifts to any college or university in Illinois.
1989 – The university rises to the request of area businesses seeking better-prepared employees by forming the College of Management and Business (CMB) to deliver undergraduate and graduate degrees, including a much-in-demand MBA program.
1990 – In recognition of the Louis family’s tremendous generosity and support, the institution is renamed National Louis University, a comprehensive university composed of three colleges.
1999 – NLU moves to its flagship downtown Chicago location in the historic Peoples Gas Building, while reaching other students nationwide with campuses throughout Illinois and in Wisconsin and Florida.
2011 – National Louis University celebrates its 125th year and is respected as one of Chicago’s oldest, most innovative private universities, providing a quality education for a new type of learner: one who is pursuing an education while managing other personal and professional goals. NLU continues the commitment of its founders, who believed in the value of education as “preparation for life.” From its sense of community to its student-centered approach to online learning, the university is constantly evolving to meet society’s changing needs.