Educating the Next Generation of Social Innovators

Forward-thinking educators founded The New School in 1919 to defy the intellectual constraints of traditional college education. As it approaches its centennial, The New School remains on the cutting edge – attracting active scholars, artists, and pacesetters that deploy creativity and innovation to challenge the status quo. In New York City, Paris, and online, The New School enrolls 10,000 degree-seeking students in more than 135 undergraduate and graduate programs focused on collaborative, project-based, interdisciplinary learning.

The context for higher education and learning is constantly changing.  We are experiencing profound and rapid changes with regard to future of work, enterprise and careers. Millennials are expected to change jobs every 2 years over a period of 40 years and by 2020 it is anticipated that 50% of the workforce will be entrepreneurs or freelancers.  We provide students with learning experiences that enable them to pursue purposeful careers and equip them with the competencies to design their own futures.   

The New School’s unique approach to social innovation education leverages its strong capabilities in design, social sciences, media and technology, management, liberal arts and performing arts with a commitment to sustainability and social justice. It also emphasizes project-based learning where students work together and with external partners and communities to design new forms of interaction, products and services, organizations, policies, technologies, and systems to address pressing needs of the 21st century.


Signature Platforms and Labs

Students develop their capacities as leaders and social innovators through hundreds of courses across the university.  In addition, we have created diverse research and learning platforms and labs to help students take their ideas to the next level.  Illustrative examples include:

New Challenge
A centerpiece of the social innovation ecosystem at The New School is New Challenge.  New Challenge is an annual ideas competition that offers students up to $10,000 to develop tangible real-world projects, products, organizations, and the like aimed at solving problems in diverse communities. To date, over 500 students have submitted proposals (ideas for new products or services, social ventures, policy-oriented initiatives, performance projects, documentary films, technology apps, game design, etc.). Students who apply to New Challenge also participate in workshops to help them develop their ideas and receive mentorship from faculty and alumni.  

Entrepreneurs Lab (E-Lab)
To enable students to continue on with their projects and social ventures after graduate, E-Lab was created in 2014. It aims to bridge academic and professional practices for a selected group of recent alumni from the Parsons School of Design Strategies graduate programs. The E-Lab’s distributed network model aims to provide recent graduates with key opportunities to realize their entrepreneurial ventures. The E-Lab seeks to partner with co-working spaces and businesses in the entrepreneurial space in New York City and beyond, with deep interest in innovative startups, sustainable businesses, and the greater social good.


Social Enterprise Alliance

Social Enterprise Alliance is the national membership organization and a key catalyst for the rapidly growing social enterprise movement in the United States. They provide social enterprises with the resources they need to succeed, support and grow the field on a national scale and serve as a voice for more sustainable social impact.

Check out their great resources!

Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability Lab
The DESIS Lab is a research laboratory that works at the intersection of strategic and service design, management, and social theory, applying interdisciplinary expertise in problem setting and problem solving to sustainable practices and social innovation.  A particular focus has been public service innovation in the areas of affordable housing, public education, small business services and financial empowerment.

PETlab is a joint project of Games for Change and Parsons The New School for Design.  It is a place for testing prototyping methods and the process of collaborative design with organizations interested in using games as a form of public interest engagement.  PETlab connects scholars and designers in the field of digital media, practitioners working in the spheres of education and social issues, and people of all ages at play.   Learn more about PETlab’s projects here.

Community Development Finance Lab  (CDFL)
CDFL examines community capital markets through real-world projects. Students work as pro-bono consultants in partnership with community based organizations and social enterprises to conduct feasibility studies and business plans for their community economic development projects.

Cohort 21
Cohort 21 is a new experimental undergraduate program, made possible by the university’s designation as one of the inaugural U.S. Department of Education Experimental Sites. Cohort 21 seeks to make college education more accessible, affordable, and meaningful for self-directed adult students. As a Competency-Based Education pilot, students in the Cohort 21 program create a series of credit-bearing experiential learning projects, implemented independently outside the university.

Other research and learning platforms and labs include:

Commitment to Educational Innovation

We are committed to being on the cutting edge of educational innovation and socially engaged education.   In recognition of this commitment, we have been designated an Ashoka U Changemaker Campus since 2009.  This designation is given to leading universities and colleges that share a vision of higher education as one that transforms the educational experience into a world-changing experience.

Read more about The New School’s academic programs and its mission and vision or view this short video.