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The Big Picture San Diego Blog


Investor Spotlight: National University

March 15, 2016

This week, we sat down with Dr. Michael R. Cunningham, president of National University and chancellor of the National University System to discuss the university's undeniable impact on our region. For more than four decades, National University has trained our region's workforce – providing convenient, quality education for veterans, adult learners and more. In a new partnership with AMN Healthcare, National University will assist with the development of AMN's online, educational practices and pedagogy aimed at clinical staff. National University – and its partnerships with companies such as AMN – is spearheading the ongoing professional development of our region and workforce. 

1)      Please tell us a little about National University. We’re not looking for the traditional ‘about us.’ Feel free to share anecdotes, projects or interesting facts that others may not know.

National University has deep ties to the San Diego community and our military population. Our founder Dr. David Chigos was, in fact, a Navy retiree and working for General Dynamics when he identified a need to provide quality, accessible education for working professionals. This included for our military community, which faced regular deployments and class scheduling challenges. National University became a pioneer in meeting the needs of adult learners, launching a unique one-class-per-month format that was particularly convenient for our military students to pursue their studies. Since our founding in 1971, we have grown to become the second-largest private, nonprofit university in California. We have more than two dozen locations throughout the state and Nevada, and locally we are in Chula Vista, La Mesa, Spectrum, Kearny Mesa, Carlsbad, Rancho Bernardo as well as at San Diego area military base locations. We also were among the early pioneers of online education, and so our students have a choice or learning online, on campus or through a hybrid format. We offer more than 100 programs in all areas of study, and our Sanford College of Education is among the Top Ten largest in the nation.

2)      Ensuring San Diego has a steady stream of talented university grads is essential to our regional competitiveness strategy. What are some of the advantages to having your university’s footprint in San Diego?

National University is proud to be in and of San Diego since it brings so many opportunities to partner with wonderful organizations dedicated to keeping our region competitive, such as the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation.

In fact, you may not realize how many people in our community are National University graduates. They include council members Myrtle Cole and Marti Emerald, former San Diego mayor and police chief Jerry Sanders, who is now CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, School District Superintendents such as Jeff Felix of the Coronado School District and Duane Coleman of the Oceanside Unified School District, and your neighbors and work colleagues.

We are serving a very important need in the San Diego community in collaboration with the other great institutions in our region. About 80 percent of our undergraduate students are transfer students, many who come to us from other local San Diego institutions and community colleges. Many of the students in our graduate programs come from some of San Diego’s well-known institutions, such as San Diego State University, and other CSUs, as well as from the University of California system – so we are clearly providing a pathway to ongoing professional education that will directly serve our community.

We also have established educational partnerships with both the County of San Diego and the City of San Diego, which named us their Preferred Employee Education Partner, to serve our region’s working professionals in the public sector. Community partnerships are important to us, and that includes our involvement as the San Diego Padres’ exclusive education partner. We look forward to holding our commencement at the Padres stadium in 2016.

3)      San Diego is full of dynamic companies, firms and service providers influencing global trends and innovation.  National University is very engaged with many of them. Pick a San Diego-area company that’s at the top of its game.

Education is such a driver for our region’s competitiveness and it’s been exciting to collaborate with a number of companies as they redefine workplace education. One example is with AMN Healthcare, which is one of San Diego’s greatest companies and the nation’s largest provider of healthcare staffing and workforce solutions. AMN’s CEO and President Susan Salka has led a phenomenal team to be at the forefront of redefining the workforce in health care today and is dedicating efforts to ongoing education and training for clinical staff.  We have partnered with AMN Healthcare to complement the company’s extensive and targeted educational efforts by supplying it with the technological framework to enhance its offerings. This has been a great fit since National University was a first mover with online learning, so we are assisting with the development of online practices and pedagogy aimed at clinical staff. What AMN is doing is very impressive and underscores the importance of ongoing professional development in ways that will positively impact our region and workforce. We are pleased to be partnering with AMN on this important initiative.

4)      What do you anticipate for National University in the next 5 years? What do you anticipate for the San Diego region?

I am so pleased to have served over the past three years as both President of National University and as Chancellor of the National University System. Now it’s time to hand over presidential duties April 1 to Dr. David Andrews who comes to us as the highly-regarded Dean of the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University. I am confident he will do a superb job and the San Diego community will enjoy getting to know him. I will continue to work closely with Dr. Andrews as I focus more of my attention on the System, a network of accredited nonprofit education institutions serving higher education and K-12 students and anchored by National University.

San Diego is such an innovation-driven community. We are already a clear leader in health, biotech and other major fields, and we can expect even more amazing breakthroughs in the sciences and creative industries in the next five years. Our cross-border region is also one of our greatest strengths, with the potential to make San Diego an even stronger force in the global economy. Partnerships with groups such as the All Star Games 2016 will also put San Diego on the map and allow us to share our great stories with the wider world. Educational institutions such as ours will be critical for identifying market-relevant programs and developing partnerships with the private and public sector. National University has been a pioneer in offering quality education for the working adult, and we will continue to be a leader in providing innovative education models to help address an anticipated need in California of 1.5 million more college graduates by 2025. We will do this through the creation of programs that prepare students for new and in-demand professions, such as our popular cybersecurity program. And we will continue to train a new generation of leaders - great teachers, civic leaders and professionals – as part of our commitment to strengthening our economy one graduate at a time.

We also see ourselves as a major national driver in offering and putting into practice innovative approaches to education. National University prepares more teachers than any other university in California, and we see our role expanding on a national scale by identifying and supporting initiatives that emphasize PreK-12 student development and success. As the home of the Sanford Education Center, launched in 2014, we are currently leading the national adoption of two such programs – Sanford Harmony and Sanford Inspire – to classrooms in San Diego and nationwide in collaboration with universities around the country.  We also have similar plans for our unique “cause sales” fundraising programs developed by the Sanford Institute of Philanthropy to support the work of nonprofits. These three initiatives come from the vision of philanthropist and entrepreneur T. Denny Sanford, and as we are very proud to be leading their national expansion as it aligns closely with our own mission as a private, nonprofit university serving the public good.