A Brief Chat with President Tom Neal
Founded in 1973, California Coast University has had two presidents – Thomas A. Neal, Sr. and current President Thomas Neal, Jr. For this anniversary newsletter, Chief Academic Officer Murl Tucker caught up with current President Neal to look back at some of his memories and some of the highlights from the past 50 years.
You have been with the university since the very beginning. What were some of the motivations for starting the university, the challenges, and the opportunities that presented themselves during those early years?
“The idea for the university first came out of the economic changes occurring in the 1970’s and more specifically changes in the Southern California aerospace industry. There were literally tens of thousands of displaced workers who needed an avenue to return to college. Traditional schools offered only regular classroom attendance and these displaced people needed alternative, accelerated programs to help them compete in the marketplace. What CCU offered was rolling enrollments where students could start their studies at any time and complete their programs at their own pace. Like any new venture, we had some growing pains, but we were committed to helping mid-career adults earn their degrees and we’re very proud of the many students and graduates we were able to help.”
California Coast University has been an innovator in distance education for 50 years. What were some characteristics of those early years and what are some of the things you are especially proud of that CCU was able to accomplish during that time?
“There are so many things I’m proud of. First, we were committed to offering quality programs and we knew tuition was key. Our programs needed to be affordable to help support busy professionals who were taking care of families and trying to keep a lot of plates spinning. We also needed to be able to take into account all of the previous college and training our applicants had completed. That would help them reach their goal faster. For that, we developed a very comprehensive evaluation process to help give students all the allowable transfer credit we could. That way, our students would benefit by having less outstanding coursework to complete. Plus, we always tried to give credit for professional and/or specialized training. Our courses were based on a standard level college textbook and the study guides were created to be consistent from course to course. This helped our students know what to expect from one course to the next. Also, we created a rental library to drastically reduce the cost of textbooks. Finally, we’ve always maintained a good working relationship with the State of California and our accreditor.”
Speaking of the State of California and accreditation, CCU’s next accreditation cycle is coming up in 2025. Do you have any thoughts about the University’s commitment to offering quality education and the comprehensive process of accreditation that has made up a big part of CCU’s journey?
“When we started, it was primarily traditional brick and mortar colleges and universities that were accredited – not a lot of accredited distance education programs were out there in the mid 1970’s. Starting out, we worked with the State of California to meet their comprehensive requirements for quality assurance. I even became an evaluator and participated in over 20 institutional approval site visits. All of that was a big help in developing and improving our own processes and standards.
When we decided to seek accreditation, we chose to work with the Distance Education Accreditation Commission (formerly DETC). They were recognized by the United States Department of Education and were a leader in accrediting institutions who focused primarily on delivering educational programming through distance education. This seemed like a good fit for us. We worked closely with the staff at DEAC and developed good working relationships with them. Since becoming accredited, we have been active in their training and other professional development activities. Several of our staff have completed evaluator training courses and participated on site visits for other institutions. I was even nominated and served as President of the Business Standards Committee for several years. We continue to work closely with our colleagues at DEAC, and regularly attend meetings and conferences. Next up, we will be at the Spring Conference 2023 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.”
From your perspective, looking back over the last 50 years and looking forward to the future, what are your thoughts about the opportunities and the challenges ahead for higher education in meeting the needs of today’s adult learner?
“Education is a challenging but highly rewarding field. The challenges come from trying to anticipate and stay ahead of whatever is coming next and what students are looking to achieve. At CCU, we know our mission has always been to offer quality educational programs at an affordable tuition to working professionals. Today’s adult learner is looking for flexibility and degrees that will serve them both professionally and personally and programs that will carry them into the future. Through our advisory councils, faculty, student, and graduate stakeholders, we work hard to gather information and to translate that to our courses and programs. We have a good mechanism for updating our curriculum and adding resources to address changes occurring in the various fields. When you see the very high satisfaction rates (over 90%) we receive from our students in the surveys we conduct, I think we do a good job achieving our mission. We’re very proud of these accomplishments and look forward to continuing to serve our students and graduates in the years ahead.”
Thank you for your time today and the valuable information you provided.
“You’re very welcome. Thank you!”