The university was founded in the late 1950s as Alaska Methodist University by Peter Gordon Gould, an Aleut from Unga, Alaska. Gould became the first Alaska Native minister in the United Methodist Church later in life, and used his position to campaign for the development of a Methodist University in Alaska.
Alaska Methodist University dedicated its campus on June 28, 1959. In April 1958, Dr. Donald F. Ebright was elected as the university's first administrative president. Frederick P. McGinnis was elected in 1960, and served as acting president to the first class of students to attend the university. Approximately 900 acres of land destined to become the site of the APU Kellogg Campus was attained in 1973 from the DeWolf-Kellogg Trust.
In November 1978 Alaska Methodist University was renamed Alaska Pacific University. Despite the university's origins with Judeo-Christian traditions found in United Methodism, there is no sectarian or doctrinal creed found in its educational offerings. In 2016, APU formed a strategic partnership with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, the largest Tribal health organization in the country. The partnership supports the development of academic and cultural programs focusing on the needs of the state and Alaska Natives.
The Early Honors program functions as an alternative to the senior year in high school.
Undergraduates can pursue liberal arts and sciences programs. APU's course year is split into "block" sessions of four weeks, co-existing alongside the "session" of eleven weeks to form a semester. APU offers nine graduate programs, eight master's degrees and one doctoral degree. There are also several graduate certificate options. APU also offers a professional studies programs for non-traditional students.
The Atwood Campus Center houses the university's student union plus dormitories.
The main campus includes academic facilities, residence halls, community gathering spaces, recreational facilities, and winter and summer recreational trails. The campus consists of eight major buildings, with five of them currently utilized directly by the university. The three other buildings on the main campus are offices for the US Geological Survey, Alaska Public Media, and the Alaska Spine Institute.
There are multiple housing accommodations on the main campus, divided up by class year designations. All incoming freshman under 21 years of age are required to live on campus for their first two years.
Alaska Pacific University is known for its Nordic Ski Team. The APU Nordic Ski Center (APUNSC) was established in 1999 as a regional Olympic training center for cross-country skiers. According to the center's "About" page, the mission of APUNSC is to encourage involvement in cross-country skiing programs in Anchorage. APUNSC offers year-round training programs for all levels of skiers who wish to compete professionally.
Associated Students of Alaska Pacific University (ASAPU) is the elected body for student government. ASAPU members represent student interests and oversee student clubs and organizations. APU has a typical assortment of student clubs and organizations with which students can affiliate themselves.
In the Residence Halls, the Resident Activity Programming Board hosts events for students who live on campus.