Washington Adventist University was established in 1904 as a coeducational institution known as the Washington Training Institute. Its purpose was to train young men and women in the liberal arts. In 1907, when the name was changed to Washington Foreign Mission Seminary, the more limited objective of special training for missionaries replaced the original concept of a liberal arts college. In 1914 the college resumed the status of a liberal arts college and took the name Washington Missionary College. At the first commencement, held May 22, 1915, five students received the Bachelor of Arts degree.
In 1933 the lower division was organized as Columbia Junior College and received accreditation. It ceased to exist as a separate college in 1942 when Washington Missionary College was given accreditation as a four-year, degree-granting institution by the The Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. In March of 1961, the college constituency voted to change the name of the college to Columbia Union College. With the achievement of university status in July 2009, the college name was again changed to Washington Adventist University.
Today, WAU continues to hold true to the values upon which it was created. WAU is a Christ-centered institution of higher education that supports a culture of excellence where all feel valued. Our vision as an Adventist university is to produce graduates who bring moral leadership and competence to their communities. WAU graduates get great jobs and enter the best graduate programs after university.