The Forum was founded in 1984 at Columbia University and initially funded by a five-year grant from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education.  The Forum has been resident successively on the campuses of four of its founding members–Columbia, Stanford, Yale and MIT.  Known originally as the Forum for College Financing, the early Forum focused on the economics of learning and on new approaches to financing higher education.  The Forum was resident at Columbia through 1989.

At the conclusion of its original grant, founding institutions decided that they wanted the Forum to continue beyond the original grant period.  Funding to sustain the Forum was secured from private foundations and corporate sponsors.  Participating institutions also started to provide support.

In 1990, the Forum moved to Stanford University and was resident there from 1990 to 1996.  While at Stanford, the Forum was popularly known as the Stanford Forum.  Its research agenda expanded to include the study of institutional strategy, structure and design.

From 1996 to 2001, the Forum was resident at Yale University and given its current name–Forum for the Future of Higher Education.  With the advent of the internet, the Forum’s research agenda expanded to include the role of new learning media and technologies in instruction and research.

Today, the Forum is resident at MIT and pursues an integrated research agenda aimed at better understanding the forces shaping the future of higher education.  Its research agenda now embraces economics and finance, learning science, new learning media and technology, advances in the cognitive and neurosciences, and the role of the university in the global political economy.  Forum research and findings are widely distributed throughout higher education.