Chris Graham, Dr. Michael Cunningham and Nancy Rohland-Heinrich (left to right) celebrate the merger of National University and Northcentral University at NU’s Kearny Mesa headquarters. Photo by Karen Pearlman

Chris Graham, Dr. Michael Cunningham and Nancy Rohland-Heinrich (left to right) celebrate the merger of National University and Northcentral University at NU’s Kearny Mesa headquarters. Photo by Karen Pearlman

San Diego-based National University is merging with Northcentral University, a fully online university based in Point Loma that specializes in advanced degrees.

The merger, announced last week (July 18), combines National University’s experience in providing career-relevant degrees and credentials for adult learners with Northcentral’s diverse and well-established master’s and doctoral program offerings.


The union of the two institutions is expected to boost enrollment to more than 42,000 students, making National University the second largest private university in California behind the University of Southern California, which currently has about 50,000 students.


National University, a veteran-founded nonprofit institution that primarily works with adult learners, online students, educators and members of the military community, is part of the National University system, which also includes City University of Seattle.


Northcentral University is an adult-education institution offering doctoral degrees in an exclusively online format. It has been serving about 10,000 students through a unique “one-to-one” online learning model, offering 23 fully online doctoral programs.


“With the array of programs and courses that Northcentral offers and National University offers, we have a lifelong learning set of programs,” said Dr. Michael Cunningham, chancellor of the National University System and interim president of National University.


‘Best of the Best’


“We’re bringing together the best of the best with a wonderful faculty and staff who realize it’s all about the students,” Cunningham added.


“We aim to become the best teaching university in the world. I know that’s a big statement but it’s one that we will fulfill, one that I really believe that in the next five years we will get there.”

He said that National University is prepared to help educate people for the jobs of the future, building market-relevant programs for students today and that the school maintains close relationships with employers “to see where are those jobs going to be, what are the skills and competencies that are needed.”


The merge will allow National University “to make sure across the country (that) students can be met where they need to be met, through the use of innovation technology, through the partnership of faculty and students,” Cunningham said.


The merger was first proposed in 2018 and the two entities have been connected for several years, with Northcentral originally becoming part of the National University System as an independent member institution in 2019.


Ruthann Heinrich, chair of the National University System Board of Trustees, said that the recent approval of the merger by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission allows National University to continue to offer more – and more relevant – courses.


“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,” Heinrich said. “This merger – which now has approval from our accrediting agency to move forward – is a significant step toward achieving that vision. It will equip National University to develop educational offerings and student services that are even more comprehensive and responsive to the complex needs and aspirations of today’s learners.”


Dr. Nancy Rohland-Heinrich, vice chancellor of communications and community engagement for the National University System, has been with the school for nearly 43 years. She said that when she started, there were about a dozen programs and 1,000 students with 1,000 graduates.


Commitment to the Community


“Now we have more than 40,000 students and we will reach 190,000 alumni this month,” Rohland-Heinrich said.  “We have 160 programs at associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate level. We’ve always had a heartfelt commitment to the community. It’s always been important that our students go into professions that give back to the community.”


Cunningham said that as the country continues to deal 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.”


He said that the union of the two institutions will make it possible for National University to offer workforce-relevant, in-demand programs to adult learners across the U.S.


Under the new structure, National University will offer a comprehensive suite of academic programs from the pre-college to doctoral level and a unique focus on “micro credentials” and workforce training programs designed with input from top employers.


“The values that have made NU and NCU successful—flexibility, academic quality, workforce relevance, and inclusive and student-centric programming—have never been more timely or relevant than they are today,” said Eugene Wilkerson, interim co-president at Northcentral University.

 
“Bringing together the talent, expertise and commitment to service of these two diverse academic communities will enable us to deliver against our shared mission with significantly greater impact and reach,” Wilkerson added.

 
In the coming months, academic leadership and administrators from the two institutions will consolidate into a unified academic structure organized around nine colleges and academic programs.

 
National University’s diverse population of students reflects the shifting demographics of students in higher education today.

 
According to college officials, nearly 70 percent of National University students take the majority of their classes online.


National University
FOUNDED: 1971
INTERIM PRESIDENT: Michael R. Cunningham
HEADQUARTERS: Kearny Mesa, San Diego
BUSINESS: Nonprofit education
EMPLOYEES: 3,300
REVENUE: $895 million (National University System)
WEBSITE: nu.edu
CONTACT: (858) 628-8648
NOTABLE: Thirty percent of the NU student body are active-duty military servicemembers and veterans.