On March 2, 1867, President Andrew Jackson signed into law a bill granting Howard University a charter, creating educational opportunities for those, primarily African-Americans, who would not have access to it otherwise.
The university’s first motto and seal read “equal rights and knowledge for all,” and throughout its history, Howard University graduates have represented an assortment of races and ethnic backgrounds, and both genders. Even among its very first students were females.
“This bore witness to the true essence of Howard University and its primary mission to educate those who otherwise would not have access to higher education,” said university President Wayne A. I. Frederick in a statement.
Original plans for the university in the year prior to its opening mapped out a small institution for preachers and teachers of color.
“These goals — seemingly limited compared to the Howard University that we know today — likely resulted from deeply rooted doubts, based in part upon the lack of knowledge concerning the academic prowess of African-Americans, and that before the Civil War, African-American men and women could benefit from higher education,” Frederick said.
Instead, it finally opened its doors in May 1867 with a total of six departments including normal, collegiate, theological, law, medical and agriculture.
Today, the private research institution is comprised of 13 schools and colleges. Howard University is the number one producer of African-American Ph.Ds. and undergraduates who matriculate to earn Ph.Ds. in STEM areas, as well as a top producer of African-American Peace Corps volunteers. It has produced four Rhode Scholars, nine Truman Scholars, two Marshall Scholars, one Schwartzman Scholar, 22 Pickering Fellows and over 60 Fulbright Scholars.
It also boasts a robust list of notable faculty and former students who shaped academics, business, entertainment and politics. Historic and contemporary figures alike from the university have made impactful contributions to society, including the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall; Black Power Movement leader Stokely Carmichael; Harlem Renaissance novelist Zora Neale Hurston and current California Sen. Kamala Harris.
Despite its many successes, in recent times the university has been labeled as a strained institution dealing with funding issues, staff cuts and infrastructure repair.
Though Howard receives the highest amount of federal funding of any historically black institution with $221 million, a 2017 Department of Education budget report showed that in 2016 the university budget cut it close. The university has $656 million in revenues and $655 million worth of expenditures.
Tuition and fees constituted 42 percent of the university’s budget in fiscal 2015, though nearly half of its undergraduate students come from families whose household incomes make less than $40,000. The system has a $613 million endowment and an $822 million operating budget for fiscal 2016.
Named president in 2014 after serving as interim president and provost, Frederick presides over the university and the Howard University Hospital. Last year he appointed a student ombudsman, set up a program that partially reimbursed students graduating on track and even launched a last-minute fundraising campaign in 2015 to help seniors who owed money.
Frederick has also face controversy in some of his administration decisions including enacting a stricter tuition payment policy, halting a policy that allowed students to graduate with six or less incomplete credits, the long-term lease of the beloved dorm Meridian Hill Hall and the possible selling of possibly the nation’s only black-owned public broadcast station, WHUT.
Frederick has said he wants to end the university’s dependence on tuition and guarantee an education regardless of a student’s income. According to his plan, that means diversifying revenue streams by monetizing some of the school’s real estate, finding entrepreneurial opportunities and increasing philanthropy income, including from alumni.
“Even in the midst of the challenges we face, this institute on is committed to producing the students and innovative ideas that our country needs,” he said.