College of Education Awarded $4 Million in U.S. Department of Education Funding to Study Impact of Social and Emotional Learning

National University receives five-year federal grant to implement SEL curriculum and evaluate its impact on student outcomes and school climate in three major county school districts

SAN DIEGO, CA (February 3, 2023) — National University, a private, non-profit university of 45,000 students with one of the largest schools of education in the United States, today announced that it has been awarded a $4 million U.S. Department of Education grant to develop an innovative model of embedding the award-winning Harmony SEL program more intentionally into the academic curriculum, particularly for historically underrepresented students. Over the next five years, the Sanford College of Education will work with the New York City Department of Education and other districts to implement this innovative approach to integrate academics and social and emotional learning (SEL) with 8,000 students attending the major city school districts and will partner with the American Institutes for Research (AIR) to serve as the independent evaluator to study the innovations impact.

“Promoting academic success has to start with ensuring that every student feels safe, supported and connected to their school community, which is especially critical at a time when our nation’s K-12 schools are recovering from the effects of learning loss, professional fatigue, increased mental health concerns and other challenges,” said Scott Page, senior vice president of the Sanford Programs at National University. “This work is about understanding how to support educators use the potential of social and emotional learning to support whole child development across distinct educational contexts—and how this approach can improve equity by meeting the needs of students in diverse school districts.”

A growing body of research shows that SEL leads to improved academic performance and behavioral outcomes for students. Students who receive SEL instruction see an average 11-percentage-point gain in academic achievement tests compared to students who did not receive SEL instruction, as well as improved relationships with peers and teachers and increased self-awareness, self-confidence and motivation. However, despite the potential of SEL, students of color, English Language Learners, and economically disadvantaged are typically underrepresented in classrooms where SEL curriculum is used in ways that meet their needs.

Over the course of the five-year project, staff from Harmony SEL programs will work with educators, staff and leadership from the districts to integrate Harmony and SEL into academic instruction for students grades three through five at 49 schools. Research and evaluation will play a critical role in the multi-year grant-funded initiative, which will generate new insight into the impact of culturally-responsive teaching practices on academic outcomes, social and emotional learning, and school climate. Through this initiative, AIR will compare the effectiveness of educators who implement Harmony, and those who implement Harmony as a tool for academic instruction. Educators who participate in the SEL-academic integration model will receive tools and professional learning to help students boost their SEL skills.

The Harmony SEL program is a unique educator-developed and tested social and emotional learning curriculum that helps students improve interpersonal skills in areas such as communication, cooperation and conflict resolution. Harmony SEL is already in various stages of adoption in more than 20,000 classrooms around the country which represents over 440,000 students. The program, which currently serves 11.5 million students across 45,000 schools, has shown to improve academic relationships, peer relationships, connections to school, and inclusion of diverse others into friendship groups.

“This collaboration presents a unique opportunity to understand the conditions for what makes social and emotional learning effective and how this evidence-based teaching practice can reach more students who have historically benefited least,” said Dr. Mark D. Milliron, president and CEO of National University. “This grant is reflective of the NU’s expertise across the entire continuum of learning—from preK through Ph.D.—and the team’s unique ability to collaborate with districts and schools to implement and advance practices that can improve the student experience.”

About National University: National University, a Veteran-founded nonprofit, has been dedicated to meeting the needs of hard-working adults by providing accessible, affordable, achievable higher education opportunities since 1971. As San Diego’s largest private nonprofit university, NU’s seven schools and colleges offer over 100 online and on-campus programs and flexible four-week classes designed to help students reach their goals while balancing busy lives. Since its founding, the NU community has grown to 45,000 students and 200,000 alumni around the globe, many of whom serve in helping industries such as business, education, health care, cybersecurity, and law and criminal justice. Learn more at

About Harmony SEL: Harmony SEL is an affiliate program of National University. These no-cost programs strive to ensure that every student feels part of a safe, supportive learning community and that every teacher and provider is equipped to create inclusive and engaging learning opportunities. By offering SEL skill development experiences across contexts through relationship-driven activities, Harmony helps young people build and sustain relationships, giving them tools to grow into compassionate and caring adults. Harmony has been recognized as a CASELect program by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). Learn more about Harmony at and learn about Inspire at

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