In 1872, the Meiji government established Japan's first school system, modeled on the French system. Accordingly, the first elementary school was founded in Sapporo.
In 1875, a temporary school of the Kaitakushi (Hokkaido Development Commission) relocated from Tokyo to Sapporo, where it reopened as Sapporo Agricultural College the following year. This was Japan's first institution of higher education specializing in agriculture. It was modeled after Massachusetts State Agricultural College. However, until Hokkaido's first junior high school was established in 1883, it was virtually impossible for students graduating from local elementary schools to enter Sapporo Agricultural College. Also, it was difficult to recruit students from Japan's mainland, because they considered Hokkaido too distant and underdeveloped. To address this problem, Sapporo Agricultural College established a preparatory course to enable elementary school graduates to prepare for college entrance. However, the entrance examination was so difficult that only a few applicants were admitted.
Amidst such circumstances, Hokkai English School, the predecessor of Hokkai-Gakuen, was established in 1885. This school conducted all lessons using English textbooks and attracted not only students wishing to enter Sapporo Agricultural College but also those hoping to receive secondary school education.
In 1901, the Middle School Division of Hokkai English School was founded. The middle school changed its name to Hokkai Middle School in 1905, marking the birth of Hokkaido's only private middle school at the time. Shizuka Asaba took office as the first president of Hokkai Middle School. It is said that he dreamed of establishing a university in Hokkaido.
In 1950, Hokkai Junior College, the predecessor of Hokkai-Gakuen University, opened its Department of Economics (day and evening courses). Upon the establishment of the junior college, preparations began for application to reorganize as a four-year university. In 1952, Hokkai-Gakuen University opened its Department of Economics in the Faculty of Economics (day course). Tetsusaburo Uehara took office as the first president, and 259 first-year undergraduates were admitted. Though small in scale, with 17 regular instructors and two administrative assistants, Hokkaido's first private university was born.