Spotlight: Founding President Thomas A. Neal, Sr.

Picture of Spotlight: Founding President Thomas A. Neal, Sr.
By CCU Staff

A Guiding Vision

It was 50 years ago this year that one man, Thomas A. Neal, Sr. had a vision to start a university based on the following principles:

“California Coast University was founded to meet the needs of mature men and women from all areas of industry, business, education, and the helping professions. The university provides an alternative method of education utilizing a nontraditional approach…” - Our mission statement from an early California Coast University catalog.

While many people may know California Coast University was founded back in 1973, many people may not know a lot about the man behind the vision and how it all started.

Early Roots

As California Coast University’s first and founding president, Thomas A. Neal, Sr. brought a rich and varied background to his role. Starting out in the military, he became a pilot with a lifelong interest in aviation – flying and restoring numerous military and civilian aircrafts. After the military, President Neal joined the General Motors Corporation, and later became the youngest Oldsmobile automobile dealership owner in Southern California. Through his involvement with General Motors, he became involved with training centers and management training programs. It was there that his interest in education began to grow.

An Idea is Born

Through his work, he saw many men and women who were working in various industries and who wanted to complete their education. These were people with busy professional and personal lives who needed the competitive edge an education could give them but didn’t have time to return to school. This became a driving force for Tom Neal. The question became, was there a way to bring the education to the students, instead of having the students “go to the education?” He knew the programs would need to be flexible and user friendly. They would have to offer quality education that would support the goals of the mid-career employees and in the end provide value to the students. Finally, they would have to be geographically friendly – not requiring students to have to drive to a brick-and-mortar school to attend night classes. The education would be offered through distance education.

Getting Started

To get started, Tom Neal gathered a group of educators. Together, they would develop a plan to build a university based on quality education, flexibility, open scheduling – that would allow students to complete their degrees in a timely manner. The degrees would incorporate previously completed college course work and professional training. The programs would need to accommodate students across the country and around the world through distance education delivery. The university would need to be recognized and respected. For that, his team turned to the State of California for the necessary support and guidance. President Neal and his group of educational administrators met with state leaders in Sacramento, California to find out what was required to start a school and get the appropriate state approvals. From there the team hired the administrative staff and additional faculty needed to develop the educational programming and get the university off the ground.

Moving Forward

After much preparation, the first students enrolled in 1973 across a variety of disciplines. The programs were a success from the beginning – filling the niche that President Neal had envisioned. Busy working professionals had an avenue and a means to reach their long held educational goals. Students were able to transfer their past college credit and specialized training into the programs offered. It was out of this that we coined our tagline – “Finish What You Started.” Because that is exactly what our students were doing - they were finishing what many had begun long before but never had a chance to finish.

President Neal continued in his role leading the university until 1986 when he was replaced by his son, Tom Neal, Jr. At that time, President Neal, Sr. continued to be active with the university as President of the Alumni Association, enjoying his varying hobbies, taking an interest in activities of the university, and in supporting the ongoing evolution of programs and systems. President Tom Neal, Sr. passed away in 2003 and he was greatly missed by the many decades of students, graduates, faculty, and staff that he supported and encouraged along the way.

Looking to the Future

A lot has changed over the years, but the vision that President Tom Neal, Sr. had 50 years ago that helped to found and shape California Coast University lives on. Under the watchful direction of President Tom Neal, Jr., the university continues its commitment to providing quality education and to helping our students reach their educational goals in a flexible and affordable manner. As we have continued to flourish and grow through the many decades since our founding, we look to the future and the many exciting opportunities that are ahead for us. These past 50 years have been quite an adventure and we know President Neal, Sr. would be proud of the tens of thousands of successful graduates who have benefitted from his founding vision and all that we have accomplished!


This article was written for you by a member of the California Coast University staff. Do you have a question, comment or an idea for an article? Email: [email protected]

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