Mission & History



Heritage University empowers a multi-cultural and inclusive student body to overcome the social, cultural, economic, and geographic barriers that limit access to higher education. Rooted in the homeland of the Yakama Nation, the University embraces transformational student-centered education that cultivates leadership and a commitment to the promotion of a more just society.

The Heritage Story

Heritage University is unique in its origins. Both old and new, it is a successor institution to Spokane’s Fort Wright College (formerly Holy Names College), founded in 1907 by the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. A new institution was born in 1981 through a change in name, location of administrative offices, ownership, and sponsorship. Under the impetus of two Yakama Nation women, leaders from business, religious, and education communities in the Yakima Valley incorporated as Heritage College so they could acquire the outreach programs that Fort Wright College operated in Omak and Toppenish.

On July 1, 1982, the transition to Heritage College became official. The new institution began offering undergraduate and graduate degrees as a separate, private, independent, nonprofit college, with its main campus near Toppenish and satellite campuses in Spokane and in Omak. In 1987, the Spokane campus was closed and the students moved to the Toppenish campus. In 2008, Omak courses were consolidated with courses offered in collaboration with Wenatchee Valley College in Wenatchee. In 2009, the Wenatchee Valley College site was placed under the Heritage University office at Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake.

In 1993, through a cooperative agreement with Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake, Washington, upper-division courses leading to a Heritage College four-year degree began. A similar program began at Columbia Basin Community College in Pasco in 2003 and at South Seattle Community College in 2006. All these outreach sites are included in Heritage’s accreditation by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. Numerous school district sites throughout the State of Washington are also used to deliver Heritage’s master’s degree programs. These sites are monitored and approved by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

In 2004, Heritage College was designated Heritage University to reflect its substantial master’s degree programs and to more accurately reflect for students from Central and South America the baccalaureate level of education provided at Heritage.

Heritage University was founded as a nonsectarian institution, not affiliated with any church or religious group. However, the university’s educational values have been influenced by the sponsoring religious order of Fort Wright College. The Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (snjm) were founded in rural Quebec in 1843 to start schools in isolated towns where the poor had no educational opportunities. They emphasized high scholastic standards and enkindling the life of the mind in a personalized learning environment. They envisioned education as the full human development of each student — intellectually, professionally, spiritually, and morally — while creating community and inspiring service to others. Over the following years, they embedded these values in educational ventures pursued around the globe, with great respect for various cultures. This is the educational heritage of today’s Heritage University.