July 29 2022
National University has big plans. The California-based institution, where most students take the majority of their classes online, is aiming to grow its footprint across the country by focusing on workforce-oriented credentials and lowering prices.
The institution is part of the National University System, a collection of nonprofit colleges and other education-related organizations. As part of the plan to focus on workforce training programs, Northcentral University, a graduate institution that the system acquired in 2019, is merging into National University.
The combined institution will retain National University’s name and enroll over 45,000 students. Officials say Northcentral brings a vast suite of graduate programs while National offers expertise in serving adult learners, typically thought of as students aged 25 and older.
Michael Cunningham is National University’s interim president and National University System’s chancellor. We spoke with him about the merger, National University’s broader plans and how the institution is reshaping the faculty role.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
HIGHER ED DIVE: One of the most challenging aspects of mergers and acquisitions can be blending two cultures together. How is that process going?
MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM: It’s very important. A lot of people focus on the financial due diligence, which is very important, and synergies between management teams, but the real essence is the merging of the cultures.
That’s why we did it so well. We affiliated with Northcentral over three years ago. We got to know each other, and we’re going through a major transformation now. We have a major consultant we’ve been working with over the last two years on this national expansion, and we have all these workgroups. We’ve merged all the people — the professors, faculty, staff — for both organizations working on initiatives for the transformation.
We’ve been working side by side very effectively for 2 1/2 years now. It’s time to come together.