Walden was founded in 1970 by two New York teachers, Bernie and Rita Turner, who created a program for working adults/faculty to study for a PhD. In the summer of 1971, the first category occurred in Naples, Florida, and focused mainly on school administrators. The initial course allows students to form a thesis topic with their faculty before returning to work at their school before completing the thesis. In 1972, Walden awarded the first degree: 46 doctoral degrees and 24 EdDs at the first university in Naples.
In 1979, the Minnesota Higher Education Coordinating Committee authorized Walden to award PhDs and EdDs in the state. In 1982, the school moved its headquarters to Minneapolis. In 1990, the Northern Central Association of Higher Schools certified the university. In 1995, the school expanded its scope of services, launched the first fully online education master's program in the United States, and opened a master's degree in educational reform and technological innovation.
Sylvan Learning Systems, Inc. purchased a 41% stake in Walden University in 2001 and obtained a controlling stake in 2002. In 2004, Sylvan Learning Systems became the winner Education Co., Ltd. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton was the honorary president of the International University from 2010 to 2015. President Clinton was the keynote speaker at the opening ceremony of Walden University on July 30, 2011. Jonathan Kaplan served as CEO from 2007 to 2018. President Clinton.
In 2013, Laureate Education Inc. and GSV Capital, IFC, Learn Capital and Yuri Milner provided Coursera with $43 million in funding to expand online education. In 2015, Ernesto Zedillo, the former president of Mexico and director of the Yale University Center for Globalization Studies, succeeded President Clinton as the presidential adviser to the winners’ education.
In 2016, Rooney and Young Nellis (Brooklyn Institution) reported that Walden University’s student loan debt ranked second in the United States, with 120,275 students owed $9.833 billion. Although the five-year student default rate is very low (7%), the percentage of loan repayment is 0%.
According to a report in the Journal of Black Higher Education, from 2011 to 2015, Walden University graduated the largest number of African-American doctoral students. From 2013 to 2017, the number of "black" doctorates awarded by Walden University was 969, more than two and a half times the number awarded by Howard University. Howard University awarded 344 doctorate degrees over the same period. According to a 2018 survey by the National Science Foundation, among 377 accredited U.S. institutions, Walden University awards the most doctorate degrees to African Americans. According to the IPEDS database of the National Center for Educational Statistics, Walden is the top sponsor of the U.S. Master of Health Care Administration, Master of Nursing Science, and Doctor of Public Health.
In 2019, the winner's education company plans to sell the school. Dr. Ward Ulmer serves as the president of Walden University. Dr. Ulmer was previously the Senior Associate Dean of Strayer University. Paula Singer is chairman of the board of directors of Walden University.