Seth Green

Seth Green, Dean of the Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies. (Photo courtesy Graham School)

Lifelong learning, unbound

The Graham School recommits to Harper’s founding vision.

When William Rainey Harper was setting up the University of Chicago, he envisioned an institution that “touches life, every phase of life, at every point.” To realize his vision, he established a University Extension that would bring the cutting-edge ideas of the University to learners of all ages, stages, and geographies in ever-more innovative ways.

University Extension, now known as the Graham School, has been at the forefront of innovation in continuing education ever since. While distance learning is a recent development at many universities, we have been practicing it since 1895, when we organized the first college-level correspondence courses in the United States.

Our history is just the start of our story. Today we are the global destination for lifelong learners who seek to rigorously explore the big ideas that challenge and change the world. Our online Master of Liberal Arts program explores breakthrough ideas from across the University’s curriculum, bringing together eminent faculty and a global student body in interdisciplinary inquiry. Our Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults empowers learners from around the world to engage in rigorous discussions about foundational texts in philosophy, literature, and social thought. And our Writer’s Studio is a haven for authors of all genres who seek to hone their craft.

Building on these strong foundations, the Graham School recently embraced an ambitious strategic plan to dramatically expand lifelong learning and to better extend the University’s intellectual resources. With the pandemic accelerating the adoption of online learning, we saw an unprecedented demand for UChicago’s distinctive educational approach; indeed, Graham’s enrollments have risen by 35 percent since 2020. We also saw growing interest from older adults, who are increasingly seeking to “rewire” instead of retire after long and successful careers.

As part of our strategic plan, Graham is launching more than a dozen new learning opportunities that span the University’s thought leadership across the arts, sciences, and society. One such opportunity is the Novel Knowledge Series, an online initiative in partnership with UChicago’s Institute on the Formation of Knowledge to offer multidisciplinary courses that challenge conventional perspectives and encourage new ways of approaching long-standing questions. The series has already engaged learners in topics including the history of “normality” and the relationship of humans to machines, and its courses will continue this coming year on issues as wide-ranging as the role of books in medieval times and the ethics of big data.

A second new initiative is the Scientific Discovery Program. This partnership with the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) aims to deepen understanding of scientific advancements as well as to examine their social and ethical implications. The program began online this summer with nine weeks of learning across the University’s scientific disciplines; it will culminate in September with an eight-day residency at MBL, featuring hands-on experiments and lab work.

A third opportunity is the Leadership & Society Initiative (LSI), a university-wide collaboration housed at Graham that will engage accomplished executives in preparing for their next chapters in leadership, service, and philanthropy. LSI has a two-part mission: to help individuals live more meaningful, connected, and fulfilling lives and to help society by equipping these individuals with the frameworks, pathways, and community to drive significant, positive societal impact. The yearlong, cohort-based initiative, which will be set on our Hyde Park campus, strives to do nothing less than reimagine the role that the University of Chicago can play in the second half of people’s lives.

More than 130 years since Harper’s founding vision, Graham continues to revolutionize learning, and we continue to believe that education is for everyone, at every stage of life. We hope you will take time to learn more about our long-standing and new offerings, and that you may find your next learning or leadership journey at Graham.