In the spring of 2020, when Covid lockdowns forced colleges to shut their campuses and scramble to bring classes online, National had already made the transition. A decade ago, roughly 60% of National’s classes were in person, held at what Cunningham describes as 20,000-square-foot microcampuses in secondary California cities like Redding and Chula Vista. By 2020, National was approaching 70% online; today 88% of its delivery is digital. During the pandemic Cunningham sold four properties in California—including a 125,000-square-foot La Jolla facility for more than $100 million. Excluding military bases, National has only 10 physical locations today, down from 28 in 2018.
You won’t find entrenched tenured faculty derailing Cunningham’s plans, either. In 2020 he abrogated all faculty contracts and pushed some 40 full-timers to accept early retirement. National’s faculty head count stands at 2,587 today, but only 240 are full-time, all of them on five-year contracts. The rest are part-time adjunct professors, who earn an average of $2,400 per course. The university has never offered tenure.
“It gives [National] more flexibility to meet the strategic needs of learners in the market—as opposed to being beholden to faculty interests,” says Michael Horn, cofounder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.