San Diego-based National University announced Monday plans to merge with another local online college, expanding the institution’s sizable footprint amid pandemic-heightened demand for remote learning.
Starting this fall, Northcentral University, an adult-education college also based in San Diego, will shed its moniker and join National — boosting the university’s projected enrollment to more than 42,000 students, up from about 32,000.
The University of Southern California is the only larger private college in the state, serving about 49,500 students in the last academic year.
Founded by U.S. Navy Capt. David Chigos in 1971, National University has offered undergraduate courses and credential programs for adult learners with an increasing focus on online classes over the last decade. The merger will allow the institution to expand its curriculum to include Northcentral’s master’s and doctoral programs, such as for nursing, health administration and family therapy.
“As our country continues to grapple with rapidly changing workforce needs and a new round of economic uncertainty, colleges and universities face a new imperative to deliver educational offerings that are affordable, accessible and tightly aligned with the needs of the labor market,” Michael Cunningham, interim president of National University, said in a press statement.
About 70 percent of National’s students take most of their classes online, according to a press statement. The average age for a student is 33 years old and about one in four are veterans or active-duty military. The graduation rate for first-time, full-time students is 46 percent.
The private institution is part of the National University System, which also includes the City University of Seattle. School leaders hope to roughly double the system’s total enrollment to about 100,000 students in coming years.
“Three years ago, the board of trustees approved an ambitious five-year plan, challenging National University’s leadership to expand access to workforce-relevant credentials and skills at a lower price,” Ruthann Heinrich, chair of the National University System Board of Trustees, said in a press statement. “This merger, which now has approval from our accrediting agency to move forward, is a significant step toward achieving that vision.”
A bachelor’s degree at National currently costs about $66,600 and a graduate degree $19,890, according to school officials.
An investigative report released last year by the American Association of University Professors blasted National for laying off 50 full-time teachers “in flagrant disregard of widely accepted standards of academic governance.” The report, which looked into the administrative practices of several colleges in the wake of the pandemic, also said that National’s layoffs had “demoralized a dedicated faculty.”
Cunningham has said he disagrees with the findings and that the report doesn’t reflect the position of the university’s teachers.
In 2020, National backed away from renaming itself after the billionaire T. Denny Sanford, when the mega-donor was implicated in a child pornography investigation brought by the South Dakota attorney general. The case was eventually closed without charges. Donations by the Sanford to the school, including $350 million in 2019, played no role in the merger, officials said.