After a decade of service, Chancellor Cunningham, who also serves as interim president of National University, will retire at the conclusion of the 2022-2023 academic year.
San Diego, CA – August 9, 2022 – Dr. Michael R. Cunningham, who has served as both chancellor of National University System (NUS) and president of National University (NU) during his ten-year term will leave a lasting legacy when he departs the nonprofit, adult-serving institution at the end of the 2022-2023 school year.
Dr. Cunningham’s career parallel’s the growth of National University System’s network of nonprofit education institutions that serves pre-K-12 students and working professionals. Amid the organization’s growth, Dr. Cunningham remained dedicated to revolutionizing the higher education landscape through the democratization of education, thus creating equitable opportunities for a diverse population of learners to achieve education and career goals.
“When I began at National University in 2013, I implemented a core promise of keeping students at the forefront of every decision I made,” said Dr. Cunningham, who oversees National University, Northcentral University, and City University of Seattle. “I am so appreciative of our esteemed faculty and staff, who are dedicated to bringing quality education to our students and supporting them in achieving their education and career goals”
The National University System includes three institutions serving a diverse population of adult learners who have been historically ignored. National University is recognized as a Hispanic Serving Institution, and Dr. Cunningham has cultivated and championed a culture of inclusion throughout the National University System through its social justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (S-JEDI ) initiative and dedicated team. NUS developed additional education-focused initiatives during Dr. Cunningham’s tenure, including Workforce Education Solutions, Harmony SEL, Inspire Teaching & Learning, and Fundraising Academy Cause Selling Education. Each of these institutions and initiatives have achieved a multitude of accolades, including the recent approval by the U.S. Department of Education and WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) to merge National University and Northcentral University. In 2020, National University also received reaffirmation of accreditation for a period of 10 years – the maximum length of time offered by WSCUC.
Under Dr. Cunningham’s leadership, which blended his background of business and education, NUS endowments and quasi endowments tripled to $1.4B leveraging a combination of significant fundraising, maximization of real estate assets, and an intense focus on operational efficiencies.
Under his administration, enrollments have grown 37 percent to 48,000, and the System’s Pre-K to 6–grade social and emotional learning (SEL) programs have impacted, to date, more than 13 million students worldwide.
“NUS has undergone phenomenal growth and change under Chancellor Cunningham’s leadership,” said Ruthann Heinrich, Chair of the NUS Board of Trustees. “His commitment to students and dedication to S-JEDI and transformational initiatives have strengthened the National University System and positioned its institutions for future success.”
In June 2022, Forbes published their annual College Financial Grades list, scoring more than 900 private, nonprofit colleges’ financial positions. The data shows that National University made the third-largest jump on their list of any institution, rising from a B– to an A+ placing NU among the nation’s most prestigious institutions, including Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and MIT.
NUS fared well during the pandemic with Dr. Cunningham’s guidance. The Board of Trustees had charged Dr. Cunningham and the leadership team with making necessary strategic changes to lower tuition and continue the financial strength of the university before the pandemic. This resulted in a major transformation led by Dr. Cunningham. The University initiated $30 million dollars in new student scholarships with the goal of reducing tuition by 20% and committed millions of additional resources to technology and student support toward improving student success. It also offered 25% tuition reduction to students during the summer of 2020—at the peak of the pandemic. Further, the University committed to investing in the creation of 70 new programs over the next couple years to best meet the needs of its unique student population and the changing demands of current and future workforce.
The System served as an education partner to organizations including the San Diego Padres, the City of San Diego, Amazon, Boeing, hundreds of school districts and community colleges, as well as a myriad of financial institutions and law enforcement organizations, as well as healthcare organizations such as Sharp and the American Heart Association in San Diego. During his time at NUS, he’s even had an opportunity to host Ms. Oprah Winfrey for a campus lecture in front of students and the university community.
Dr. Cunningham earned his doctorate and master’s degree from the New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
With extensive experience in both higher education and business, Cunningham previously served as the Dean of the Fowler College of Business at San Diego State University. He was also the Founder and served as Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, and President of Cunningham Graphics International (CGII; NASDAQ) from 1989-2000, a multinational graphics communications company that operated out of seven countries and employed approximately 2,000 employees.
Dr. Cunningham has been named Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year, received the BritishAmerican TransAtlantic Business Award, was honored by Gamma Chapter of Gamma Epsilon Tau, the national graphic arts honor society, with a Gold Key Award, and was inducted into Junior Achievement of San Diego’s Lifetime Laureate Hall of Fame for Business and Philanthropy. This fall, he will be named a Patriot of the Year by USO San Diego
Dr. Cunningham has served on the boards of New York University, the Center for Creative Leadership, the California Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities, the San Diego Foundation, the Christ Hospital Foundation of New Jersey, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of New Jersey. He is a contributor to Sanford Burnham Research, San Pasqual Academy, the San Diego Sports Commission, and the Association of CA Independent Colleges and Universities (AICCU)
Dr. Cunningham also has supported efforts to increase housing opportunities for military veterans. As Honorary Chair for the Epilepsy Foundation of San Diego’s 2017 Gingerbread City Gala, Cunningham raised the most the gala had raised over its history. As NUS is in an of the San Diego community, Dr. Cunningham is also a staunch supporter of the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Symphony, and Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego.
The Board of Trustees have completed a nationwide search for the next president of National University. An announcement on who will be Dr. Cunningham’s successor will be made this week.
About National University: National University, a veteran-founded nonprofit, has been dedicated to meeting the needs of hard-working adults by providing accessible, affordable, achievable higher education opportunities since 1971. As San Diego’s largest private nonprofit university, NU offers over 75 online and on-campus programs and flexible four-week classes designed to help students reach their goals while balancing busy lives. Since its founding, the NU community has grown to over 30,000 students and 190,000 alumni around the globe, many of whom serve in helping industries such as business, education, health care, cybersecurity, and law and criminal justice. National University’s merge with Northcentral University will be complete on September 30, 2022, growing the institution by over 10,000 students and 80 graduate and doctoral programs learn more at NU.edu.
About the National University System: The National University System (NUS) is a network of accredited nonprofit education institutions serving a diverse population of students including pre-K-12 students and working professionals. NUS higher-education institutions serve more than 45,000 students through National University, Northcentral University, and City University of Seattle. NUS education-focused initiatives include Workforce Education Solutions, Harmony SEL, Inspire Teaching & Learning, and Fundraising Academy Cause Selling Education. National University’s merge with Northcentral University will be complete on September 30, 2022, growing the institution by over 10,000 students and 80 graduate and doctoral programs. Learn more at nusystem.org.