A desire to educate their children led the founders of Northwest Nazarene University (NNU), under the leadership of Eugene Emerson, to organize an elementary school in 1913. In the ensuing two years, both high school and college courses were added to the curriculum. Thus began Northwest Nazarene University, now an accredited, Christian, comprehensive university of the arts, humanities, sciences, and professions.

In 1915, the first student was graduated from high school, and a year later Dr. H. Orton Wiley was elected president. The first college degrees were conferred upon a class of four graduates in 1917.

Academic progress has been notable, including accreditation as a junior college in 1931 and as a four-year college in 1937. Master's programs were added in the early 1970s. The name of the institution was changed from Northwest Nazarene College to Northwest Nazarene University in 1999.

Northwest Nazarene University presently offers six associate degree majors, over 80 bachelor's degree majors, ten master's degrees, an education specialist degree, and two doctoral degrees. In addition to attending programs on the home campus and/or online, NNU students may study in cooperative programs in 35 countries around the world. Northwest Nazarene University serves approximately 1,300 undergraduate students, 700 graduate students, and 7,000 continuing education students each year.