Howard Forward 2019-2024 Strategic Plan Retrospective Assessment

The assessment, commissioned by the Office of the Chief Strategy Officer, encompassed a review of strategic activities and initiatives undertaken from the inception of the plan in 2018 through to Spring 2024, providing a window into the evolutionary process of strategic planning at Howard University.

This process involved small, in-depth conversations with cross-sections of Howard students, staff, and faculty; online surveys; and in-person workshops. Key themes and findings from the assessment can be found below.  

President Vinson

See President Vinson's full letter to the community.

Since launching the Howard Forward strategic plan under the leadership of President Emeritus Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick in 2019, we have witnessed a transformation of our campus. Over the years, we improved the University’s quality of education, expanded our research capacity and partnerships, invested in community support programs, and enhanced our administrative systems and facilities to meet the needs of our growing student body. 

Notable Howard Forward Achievements

The Howard Forward Strategic Plan drove a culture of continuous improvement that transformed many aspects of our University. Over the years, we’ve refocused our goals to align with five strategic priorities: Enhancing Academic Excellence, Inspiring New Knowledge, Serving the Community, Improving Efficiency and Effectiveness, and Achieving Financial Sustainability. Notable accomplishments across these strategic pillars include: 

Enhancing Academic Excellence

  • In recent years, the University set ambitious goals and invested heavily to build on its strong record of academic excellence. Today, Howard University is among the elite research institutions and HBCUs in the nation.
  • To further enhance academic excellence, Howard created the Office of General Education, bringing together faculty and stakeholders to develop a cutting-edge undergraduate curriculum that reflects the University’s history and mission, ensuring that our graduates have the skills they need to succeed in the workforce.
  • From 2012 to 2022, the average per-student financial aid package increased by more than 20 percent. In total, Howard has more than doubled its scholarship funding since 2013. In addition, the University bolstered need and merit-based funding by nearly 23 percent as of 2023 through innovative programs like the GRACE Grant, which increases access and ensures a Howard University education is affordable for all students.
  • Howard’s graduation rate rose from 53 percent for the Class of 2019 to 62 percent for the Class of 2023. Retention rates at Howard have also continued to climb from 86 percent in Fall 2018 to 90 percent in Fall 2022, reflecting Howard's ongoing commitment to student achievement and support.
  • Thanks to all of the improvements across our academic support systems and institutional services, Howard’s undergraduate applicant pool for the class of 2028 increased to nearly 37,000 applicants.

Inspiring New Knowledge

  • In 2018, Howard set the ambitious goal of raising $100 million for research by 2024. Howard surpassed that goal two years early, raising $122 million in grant and contract funding for research, a record sum for any HBCU.
  • In January 2023, Howard became the first HBCU contracted by the Pentagon to establish a University Affiliated Research Center (UARC). The five-year $90 million contract is not only a major financial achievement for the University but also a groundbreaking step forward as the first UARC sponsored by the Air Force. The UARC offers students opportunities to gain hands-on experience in research and development related to military technology.
  • Howard is on track to return to R1 research university classification, a distinction no other HBCU has obtained. Our work to transform Howard into a cutting-edge research institution will further enhance our depth and diversity of scholarship.

Serving the Community

  • Howard University has a rich history of addressing challenges affecting the Black community. From providing essential healthcare services to driving educational innovation and supporting crucial housing needs, Howard University is dedicated to serving our community and the wider world.
  • Our work to instill a passion for service has been embraced by the Howard community. Last year, more than 1,500 Howard University first-year students participated in Day of Service. In February 2024, Howard celebrated the 30th anniversary of its Alternative Spring Break program, which received a record 2,100 applicants.
  • Howard has maintained strong partnerships with foundations and philanthropic organizations to advance the University’s mission of service, including its collaboration with the PNC Foundation, which provides resources and support for Black entrepreneurship and small business development across the country, and our collaboration with the Amazon Housing Equity Fund aimed at bringing affordable housing options to the D.C. community. 
  • Howard University’s incoming class of 2028 reflects the rich diversity of the U.S. and the global diaspora, with students from 49 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, five U.S. territories, and 62 countries.
  • Under the guidance of the Strategic Plan, the Howard University Hospital continued to be an anchor in the community, strengthening relationships with a number of local constituencies and organizations including Shaw Main Street, Lower Georgia Avenue Main Street, Florida Ave Baptist Church, LeDroit Park Civic Association, Georgia Avenue Thrive, District Bridges, Uniting Our Youth, and Pleasant Plains Civic Association.

Improving Efficiency and Effectiveness

  • Under the strategic plan, the University committed to reviewing the efficiency and effectiveness of administrative and operational systems in an effort to improve the quality of the Howard experience for students, staff, and faculty.
  • Implemented Bison Hub, which encompasses finance, human resources, procurement, and payroll. It also streamlines many student processes, including Recruiting and Admissions, Academic Advising, Registration, Curriculum, Financial Aid, and Student Finance. Bison Hub utilizes Workday, which offers the Howard University community enhanced access to information and efficient processes. This platform also promotes paper conservation. Significant improvements have been made to automate processes, and over time, these improvements will continue to contribute to a positive customer experience at Howard University.
  • We have taken substantial steps in enhancing student housing by closing on a $316 million tax-exempt bond transaction. This strategic financial move is part of a broader investment plan to renovate and upgrade several key student housing facilities, including Charles R. Drew Hall, George W. Cook Hall, and Harriet Tubman Quadrangle.

Achieving Financial Sustainability

  • In the last decade, Howard balanced its budget and achieved great strides toward financial sustainability . While Howard continues to work is still working to ensure that its current and future students have the resources they need to succeed on and off campus., the University is on sound financial footing.
  • Central to this goal is a $785 million effort to accelerate renovations and construct the first new academic centers on campus since 1984. The Master Plan will revitalize Howard’s campus and ensure that our facilities are equipped with state-of-the-art equipment and resources to prepare our students for the workplaces and challenges of the future.
  • From FY21 to FY22, the University’s total assets grew from $2.1 billion to $2.6 billion, a 23.8% increase.
  • Increased alumni contributions, federal appropriations, and academic awards at Howard have significantly strengthened the University’s financial health, with a total of $60.4 million in gifts raised in 2023. Noteworthy contributions include a $20 million donation from Carrie Walton Penner and Greg Penner to support the GRACE Grant endowment fund and a $12 million unrestricted gift from MacKenzie Scott for the College of Medicine, which will be directed towards the establishment of a new innovations center. 
  • Last year, Howard’s endowment rose to $809 million and is on track to soon soon surpass $1 billion.
  • Credit rating agencies have taken notice of Howard’s significant strides toward greater fiscal health. Both Fitch and S&P Global Ratings agencies have revised their ratings outlooks recognizing the “exceptional strategy Howard University has executed over multiple years to increase its financial strength.”

Assessment Findings

The assessment revealed a profound sense of pride and community and an appreciation for Howard’s mission and history. While the plan received praise for setting ambitious goals, there was a call for increased transparency, improvements in both physical and operational infrastructure, and more personalized engagement with all stakeholders. Key recommendations included:

What’s Working Well

  • New Leadership: The introduction of new leadership at Howard University has been received as a positive change, symbolizing a pivotal moment for the institution. Interviewees across the board - including students, faculty, and staff - view this as an opportunity for renewed focus and strategic direction, highlighting the potential for impactful advancements under fresh guidance.
  • Campus Mission: A compelling campus mission stands out as a key motivator for the Howard community. The unique elements that define Howard and distinguish it from other institutions have significantly contributed to a sense of pride and motivation among students, faculty, and staff alike.
  • Campus Improvements: Recent investments in campus projects have not gone unnoticed. These efforts are recognized as positive developments that enhance the physical environment and the overall University experience, signaling progress and attention to campus growth. However, due to the visibility of the projects, Howard Forward is sometimes viewed narrowly as a capital-focused initiative.
  • Outreach around Initiatives: The successful outreach surrounding recent campus initiatives, particularly the BisonHub project, serves as a model for effective engagement. This approach to communication and involvement has resonated well with the University community, demonstrating a successful strategy for rallying support and participation.
  • Appetite for Real-World Impact: There is a strong desire among stakeholders for more real-world examples that bring the strategic plan and its pillars to life. Illustrating the tangible impacts of the plan's initiatives could powerfully affirm the strategy's relevance and success.


Key Themes from Interviews

  • Process: Across groups, the process of creating the strategic plan, particularly the inclusiveness and methodologies employed, was a common topic of discussion. While the approach filled a strategic planning void and was building a culture of planning, some interviewees noted the need for better consultation with certain groups to ensure shared governance and comprehensive involvement.
  • Content: The content of the Howard Forward plan was seen as uncontroversial and generally well-received across the University. However, there were calls for the plan to stay true to Howard's unique identity and to ensure that the financial aspects of the goals align realistically with the University's capabilities


  • Stakeholder Communication: The format and frequency of communication about the strategic plan were highlighted, with some feedback pointing to a need for more frequent and varied formats of updates. Ensuring that the Howard community is regularly informed and engaged with the plan's progress is crucial.


  • Monitoring and Reporting: Mapping the availability of data to stories of the plan’s implementation and successes can bolster trust and clarity around the strategic direction.

Next Steps

As we conclude our review of the strategic plan, University leadership is gearing up for the next phase in our journey. Recognizing operational excellence as an ongoing priority, our new strategic planning process will leverage innovative strategies for Howard to fully realize its potential. We're eager to build on community feedback to address concerns regarding administrative transparency, campus infrastructure, and operational efficiency. Upcoming initiatives will reflect the diverse voices of our community and foster a shared vision for Howard's future, including reclaiming R1 status for the first time since the evaluation criteria were modified over a decade ago. It's an exciting time for us, and we invite all of the Howard community to join us in shaping a legacy of excellence in higher education.

Full Howard Forward Retrospective Assessment

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