The school was founded in Beaver, Pennsylvania in 1853 as Beaver Female Seminary. By 1872, it had attained collegiate status, under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and was named Beaver College. The school admitted men from 1872 to 1907, then again limited enrollment to women until 1972. In 1924 Beaver College moved east to Jenkintown, Pennsylvania and changed its religious affiliation to Presbyterian. In 1928, the school acquired the Harrison estate in Glenside, including Grey Towers Castle, the location of the current campus. The college operated both the Jenkintown and Glenside campuses until 1962, when it consolidated all activities onto the Glenside campus. Some significant changes came in 1972, when the college launched its first graduate programs and began admitting men in the same year. In July 2001, upon attaining university status, Beaver College officially changed its name to Arcadia University.  The university is no longer affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. Arcadia University is led by Nicolette DeVille Christensen, Ph.D., the University's 21st president. Christensen was appointed president on Oct. 11, 2013.
The university offers more than 80 fields of study in its undergraduate programs. Undergraduate majors are offered in the College of Arts & Sciences, College of Health Sciences, School of Education, and the School of Global Business. There is also an option for students to propose a self-designed major, which can consist of both courses offered in Glenside and available through study abroad.
Graduate and professional studies at Arcadia University range widely from the liberal arts to the primarily professional, from the doctoral level to workshops. Arcadia's international perspective is reflected in programs such as its accelerated part-time MBA with a Global Perspective, its Master of Arts in International Peace and Conflict Resolution and its new program in Paris, France. The master's program in Forensic Science is accredited by FEPAC.
The Doctor of Physical therapy program provides international opportunities for study abroad in London and Pro Bono opportunities in Jamaica, Guatemala, and Peru. There are clinical sites offered across the country and internationally, though mainly in the Mid-Atlantic Region of the U.S.
The university is known for its study abroad programs. The 2014 Open Doors Report on International Education Exchange, from the Institute of International Education, ranked Arcadia No. 1 in the nation for the percentage of undergraduate students participating in a study abroad experience at a master's level college or university. This was the fifth time in six years the University enjoyed the top ranking, and it has been in the top ten since 2004. The 2012-13 data from Open Doors shows 799 undergraduates studying abroad in that year, which compared to a total of 435 graduating students yields an estimated 183.7% participation rate. Two-thirds of first-year students participate in an overseas educational experience during Spring break.
In addition to sending a high percentage of its own students abroad, the university runs a number of programs that are open to students of other universities. The College of Global Studies (TCGS), which was given the status of a college in 2009, runs over 100 programs, which serve students from over 300 universities yearly. TCGS programs operate in Australia, Chile, Cuba, England, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, Turkey and Wales. There are also 10 Arcadia Centers Abroad, which offer classroom space and administrative services in locations where Arcadia's study abroad programs run.
Arcadia also offers degrees that can be completed abroad, in partnership with international institutions. In affiliation with the American Graduate School of International Relations and Diplomacy (AGSIRD), the university offers a two-year master's program in International Relations and Diplomacy, accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and located in Paris. The university also offers a one-year International MBA program in Paris, run in partnership with the American Graduate School of Business and Economics. From 2011, Arcadia University is also offering their under graduation degree programs in Russia at International Institute of Computer Technologies (IICT) with the cooperation of L&C Language and Culture Co. Ltd. Recently, Arcadia University and IICT offer 'Split Study Degree Programs' for under graduates.
In 2005, Arcadia University allied with IFSA-Butler to form the Alliance for Global Education, partly inspired by the Lincoln Commission's call to send 1M students overseas by 2017. The Lincoln Commission died in committee, but the Alliance for Global Education is still a thriving organization, specializing in sending students to India, China, and other Asian countries.
Arcadia University teams compete in the NCAA Division III within the Commonwealth Conference of the Middle Atlantic Conferences. Men's sports teams include baseball, basketball, cross country, golf, lacrosse, soccer, swimming and tennis. Women's sports teams include basketball, cross country, field hockey, golf, lacrosse, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, and volleyball.