The National Hispanic University (NHU) was established in 1981 in Oakland, California, to serve the needs of Hispanics and other underserved groups. As founding president and academic visionary for 22 years, Dr. B. Roberto Cruz believed that a small, private independent college could make a difference in the graduation rate of Hispanics and other minorities. NHU’s mission was:
To enable Hispanics, other minorities, women, and others to acquire an undergraduate degree or certificate using a multicultural educational experience to obtain a professional career in business, education, or technology.
In 1990, NHU began community outreach with Oakland's Upward Bound program for economically disadvantaged high school youths. The following year, they established the Educational Talent Search program in San Jose, California, for middle and high school students. In 1995, NHU moved to an 11-acre campus in East San Jose.
In 2002, NHU was accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission. The following year, Dr. David P. Lopez was named president of the university and later named Hispanic-Net Educator of the Year in 2005.
In 2009, NHU established the Early University Program, which introduced high school students to the college experience. After joining the Laureate International Universities network in 2010, it began to add online courses, concentrations, and degree programs in education and business.