History Timeline

History Timeline

Beginnings (1831-1900)
University Extension (1900-1946)
Rapid Growth (1947-1968)
Progress Amid Challenges (1968-1991)
Reorganization and Integration (1991-2004)
GS Today (2005- )


A nontraditional student curriculum is conceived with the offering of the first “Literary and Scientific Course” geared toward working adults.


Non-degree students at Columbia University, 1891Upon a suggestion from President Seth Low, Columbia University begins to offer classes to non-degree students and the general public, including women.


Summer courses are offered to part-time students; Nicholas Murray Butler serves as Director of the Summer Session.


Nicholas Murray Butler, now President of Columbia University, organizes adult education classes into a formal program called Extension Teaching, which offers a broad array of courses, from classical studies to highway engineering to vegetable gardening.
  Nicholas Murray Butler, President of Columbia UniversityNicholas Murray Butler, nicknamed “Nicholas Miraculous” by Teddy Roosevelt, served as President of Columbia University from 1902-1945 and shared the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize.


Columbia creates the Writing Program, which is administered by Extension Teaching.


Extension Teaching begins to offer courses in business, leading to the 1916 founding of the School of Business. Extension courses also eventually give rise to The School of Dental and Oral Surgery.

Extension Teaching receives a new name—University Extension—and begins to grant the Bachelor of Science degree.


University Extension registers a total of 19,000 students, including many who work with instructors in New Jersey, Connecticut, and Long Island. This is the largest-ever enrollment of students in the history of adult education at Columbia.
  James Chidester Egbert, Director of University Extension

James Chidester Egbert, Director of University Extension (1910-42)


James Egbert retires after six decades of service at Columbia, including 32 years as director of University Extension. Professor Harry Morgan Ayres becomes the new director and implements revisions to the curriculum.
  Harry Morgan Ayres, Director of University Extension

Harry Morgan Ayres, Director of University Extension (1942-48)

“I do not want adult education. I want a college education for adults.”


Partly to meet the needs of GIs returning from World War II, University Extension is reorganized as an undergraduate college and designated the School of General Studies.


Columbia President Dwight Eisenhower and his wifeColumbia President Dwight Eisenhower and his wife Mamie mingle with students and faculty at GS Holiday Tea.


GS shieldBorrowing from the family crest of Samuel Johnson, the first instructor and President of King’s College, GS students create the first GS shield. Notable features include an owl and the school motto, lux in tenebris lucet, or "the light that shines in the darkness," signifying that GS students attend classes at night.
  Women at GSAs students and faculty members, women have been an integral part of the School of General Studies since its inception.


Dean Louis HackerFormer University Extension student Louis Hacker, now a respected professor of American history and economics, is named the first dean of the School of General Studies (1951-58).


The GS chapter of Phi Beta Kappa is established.


GS institutes a joint-degree program with List College of the Jewish Theological Seminary.


The Postbaccalaureate Premedical Program, the first program of its kind in the United States, is established.
  The Alumni HouseThe Alumni House, now called Buell Hall, housed General Studies for many years.


Pat BooneIn 1957, Pat Boone had three number one songs, starred in two films, hosted his own television show, and graduated from GS.


Dean Clifford LordClifford Lord (1958-64) succeeds Dean Louis Hacker and sponsors substantial curriculum revisions, transforming GS into a liberal arts college.


The School of General Studies was formerly located in Buell Hall before moving to Lewisohn Hall, the previous School of Mines building, in 1964. The buidling was renamed in honor of Adolph Lewisohn, an industrialist and philanthropist who originally helped fund the building’s construction.

Dean Clifford Lord resigns to become President of Hofstra University; he is succeeded by Clarence Walton.

  The statue of Le Marteleur (The Metal Worker)

In front of the newly-named Lewisohn Hall, men prepare the statue of Le Marteleur (The Metal Worker) to be moved to the new School of Engineering building.

  Philanthropist Adolph LewisohnComposer George Gershwin's rendering of philanthropist Adolph Lewisohn. The sketch was donated to the School by former GS student Ira Gershwin.


Lewisohn Hall’s Baer Room is dedicated to Helene Gilbert Baer ’50GS, recipient of the University Alumni Medal (1960) and GS Distinguished Service Award (1961). Mrs. Baer was founder and director of the GS Alumni Association and served as the national chairman of fundraising for the School. She was married to Albert M. Baer, Chairman of the GS Advisory Council and the 1963 recipient of the GS Owl Award.
  Helene Gilbert BaerHelene Gilbert Baer, GS alumna and benefactor.


GS begins offering the Bachelor of Arts degree.
  Dean Clarence WaltonDean Clarence Walton (1964-69)


Dean Clarence Walton leaves GS to become president of Catholic University. His successor, Aaron Warner, focuses on increasing enrollment in an attempt to make the GS curriculum available to the broadest possible range of talented individuals.


Dean Aaron Warner  Dean Aaron Warner (1969-77)


Ward DennisWard Dennis (1977-92) succeeds Aaron Warner as dean of GS. Dean Warner becomes director of the newly-established Division of Continuing Education and Special Programs.


Baruj Benacerraf, '42GS, receives the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work in immunology and genetics. The award is shared with his colleagues Jean Dausset and George Davis Snell.


Lewisohn HallAlumni and friends raise funds to renovate Lewisohn Hall.
  The Division of Continuing Education and Special Programs is re-established as a branch of the School of General Studies.


GS institutes the Master of Arts program in liberal studies.


The Faculty of Arts & Sciences is created, unifying the faculties of Columbia College, the School of General Studies, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the School of International and Public Affairs.


Dean Caroline BynumDean Caroline Bynum (1993-94)


Dean Gillian LindtContinuing work championed by Dean Caroline Bynum, Dean Gillian Lindt (1994-97) finalizes an administrative reorganization that separates the continuing education programs, Summer Session, American Language Program, Columbia-sponsored study abroad programs, and the non-degree and visiting students programs from the undergraduate degree granting program and the Postbaccalaureate Premedical program. The new structure enables the School of General Studies to focus on its core mission: to attract, train, and support nontraditional students who possess exceptional academic potential within the challenging intellectual environment that is Columbia University.
  The Master of Arts program in liberal studies moves to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.


Dean Peter AwnProfessor Peter J. Awn (1997-2017) becomes dean of GS and works aggressively to continue the academic integration begun by his predecessors, Dean Caroline Bynum and Dean Gillian Lindt.


Former GS Dean Caroline Bynum becomes the first woman in Columbia history to be named University Professor.


After years of lobbying, General Studies Student Council members ensure that GS students can fully participate in on-campus student organizations.


Columbia celebrates its 250th anniversary.


GS enjoys a deeper applicant pool, with increased student matriculation and persistence in both the undergraduate college and the Postbaccalaureate Premedical Program.


GS celebrates 60 years of success as the only freestanding college in the Ivy League in which nontraditional undergraduates are fully integrated into the rigorous, traditional undergraduate curriculum--taking the same classes with the same faculty and earning the same degree as all Columbia University undergraduates.


GS renews its commitment to military veterans by becoming a participant in the Yellow Ribbon GI Education Enhancement Program, part of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008.


GS institutes the Dual BA Program Between Columbia University and Sciences Po.


GS institutes the Joint Bachelor's Degree Program between City University of Hong Kong and Columbia University.


GS celebrates the 70th anniversary of the founding of the School and Dean Peter J. Awn's 20-year tenure.


Professor Lisa Rosen-Metsch becomes dean of GS.


GS institutes the Dual BA Program between Trinity College Dublin and Columbia University