The University of the District of Columbia is, at once, very old and very new. Public higher education for the District originated in 1851 when Myrtilla Miner founded a “school for colored girls” in Washington, DC. In 1879, Miner Normal School joined the DC public school system. Similarly, Washington Normal School was established in 1873, as a school for white girls. The latter institution was renamed Wilson Normal School in 1913, after James O. Wilson, Washington’s first superintendent of public schools. In 1929, Congress enacted a statute that converted both normal schools into four-year teachers colleges. For several years, Miner Teachers College and Wilson Teachers College were the only institutions of public higher education in the city. After the landmark US Supreme Court school desegregation decision, Brown v. Board of Education (US 1954), the two colleges merged in 1955 to form the District of Columbia Teachers College.
Many DC residents, however, could not realize their aspirations for higher education if they did not wish to become teachers, or if they were both African-American and poor. Years of persistent lobbying for comprehensive public higher education by District residents and others led President John F. Kennedy, in 1963, to appoint the Chase commission to study the District’s educational needs. It was no surprise that the Commission concluded that there was a compelling need for public higher education in the District of Columbia. DC residents had an overwhelming desire for affordable education that would empower them to participate fully in the life of their unique city.
The Commission’s report stimulated congressional action. Under the leadership of Senator Wayne Morse and Representative Ancher Nelsen, Congress enacted the District of Columbia Public Education Act (Public Law 89-791) in 1966. The legislation established two schools: Federal City College, a liberal arts school, whose Board of Higher Education was appointed by the Mayor of the District of Columbia, and Washington Technical Institute, a vocational-technical training school, whose Board of Vocational Education was appointed by the President of the United States. Both institutions had the mission to solve community needs through higher education.
A new day of hope was born when both schools proudly opened their doors in 1968. Federal City College had so many admission applications, that students were selected by lottery. Also in 1968, Congress granted land grant status to Federal City College and the Washington Technical Institute under the Morrill Act of 1862. Rapidly, the two schools grew in academic stature. The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MACS) recognized this when it granted Washington Technical Institute accreditation in 1971 and later, granting accreditation to Federal City College in 1974.
Although the schools were still very new, many Washingtonians continued to advocate for a comprehensive university. In 1969, the District of Columbia Teachers College, the city’s oldest teacher training school, was placed under the jurisdiction of the Board of Higher Education. In 1974, the Board established a joint administrative support system and placed the District of Columbia Teachers College and Federal City College under a single president.
After Congress granted limited home rule to the District of Columbia, the new city council passed D.C. Law 1-36, which authorized the consolidation of the three schools in 1975. A new UDC Board of Trustees took office in May 1976, consisting of 11 members appointed by the Mayor, three appointed by the alumni associations. Thus began the monumental task of creating a new University of the District of Columbia from three very different institutions.
The Board of Trustees, to consolidate the three colleges into one university, assigned Presidents Wendell P. Russell of Federal City College and Cleveland L. Dennard of Washington Technical Institute to work jointly in identifying, developing, and implementing tasks required to complete the effort. Beginning in February 1977, 22 tasks forces were formed to develop recommendations for Board action. On August 1, 1977, the Board of Trustees publicly announced the consolidation of the District of Columbia Teachers College, the Federal City College, and the Washington Technical Institute into the University of the District of Columbia under a single administrative structure. On the same day, the Board appointed Lisle Carleton Carter, Jr., the first president of the University.
In 1977, under President Carter’s leadership, UDC began consolidating its academic programs. These efforts culminated in the establishment of five colleges of Business and Public Management; Education and Human Ecology; Liberal and Fine Arts; Life Sciences; Physical Science, Engineering and Technology; University College, and Continuing Education.
UDC continues to transform itself over time to meet the changing needs of its students and the community. The University currently offers 81 undergraduate and graduate academic degree programs through the following colleges and schools: College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences (CAUSES); College of Arts and Sciences (CAS); School of Business and Public Administration (SBPA); School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS); the Community College and David A. Clarke School of Law.
The University of the District of Columbia is a pacesetter in urban education that offers affordable and effective undergraduate, graduate, professional, and workplace learning opportunities. The institution is the premier gateway to postsecondary education and research for all residents of the District of Columbia. As a public, historically black, and land-grant institution, the University’s responsibility is to build a diverse generation of competitive, civically engaged scholars and leaders.
To be a University System that is student centered and demand driven that empowers its graduates to be critical and creative thinkers, problem solvers, effective communicators, and engaged, service-driven leaders in the workforce and beyond.