2016-summer-celebrate-20

NCU Celebrates
its 20th Anniversary

Written by Judy Tierney

It all started with the idea that “there has to be a better way to earn a degree.” In the 1970s, a young professional named Donald Hecht, seeking a graduate degree to advance his career, enrolled in night school. Balancing his job, family life, coursework and a 35-mile commute two nights a week and on weekends provided Hecht with the motivation he needed to kick-start a new education model. Today, NCU is a regionally accredited online university offering doctoral, master’s, bachelor’s, and graduate certificates, and serves more than 10,000 students.

Hecht’s first step toward achieving his dream came in 1978 when he founded Southern California University for Professional Studies (SCUPS) to provide correspondence courses and degree studies to adult learners. Almost 20 years later, with advances in technology and inspired by the possibilities to deliver education via the Internet, Hecht and a team of faculty and administrators agreed that SCUPS should create a separate online university, and in 1996 Northcentral University was born.

The University was strategically located in a one-car garage in Prescott, Arizona, near the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA), one of the leaders in recognizing the emergence of Internet distance education. In 1997, NCU created its School of Business and Technology Management, enrolled its first student, and soon after was granted a provisional license by the State of Arizona Board for Private Postsecondary Education to award degrees in business and psychology. The following year, with the ultimate goal of earning accreditation, the team incorporated the new school as a private for-profit educational institution, and its affiliation with SCUPS ended.

Early graduations were small, intimate affairs. The first was held at the Prescott Resort in 1999, where six of 22 graduates and two mentors travelled to Arizona for the event. “We were a small group physically for this first NCU graduation ceremony, but we were great in spirit and participation,” reads an excerpt from the Office of the Registrar's column in the third issue of NCU’s newsletter. “We may have a larger number next time, we may have a more elaborate ceremony at some point, but we will never have a warmer or more special group of people than the graduates of 1999.”

Dr. Donald Hecht (holding scissors) and others at the ribbon cutting in 1996.


The following year, 13 graduates, including a firefighter from Phoenix, who was completing his doctorate in psychology, and a student from Zambia, the youngest of 16 children and the first in his family to earn a degree, attended the first commencement in the auditorium of the University’s new facility at 505 Whipple Street in Prescott, Arizona. More than 40 friends and family members were also on hand to see their loved ones accept their degrees, and for the celebration afterwards, where most of the graduates addressed the group with personal stories of their journey.

Ann Cheng earned a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in 2000 and remembers attending the ceremony. “It was very exciting being one of NCU’s first students,” she says. Having stopped and restarted her educational journey several times, Cheng recalls that she was encouraged at NCU “to never give up.”

Stephen Englert, who graduated in late 2000, feels proud to be part of NCU’s early history and to have earned his MBA with an emphasis in healthcare administration from an accredited university while working full-time. Steve is now semi-retired after a 28-year career as an HR director working in health systems and local governments. “Holding an MBA from NCU opened many doors for me,” he says.

Over the next several years, NCU achieved substantial growth, adding new students and faculty, expanding the number of degrees and specializations offered, and ultimately receiving institutional accreditation in 2003 by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association. Eva Mika, PhD, and professor in the School of Business and Technology Management, joined NCU as an adjunct faculty member that fall.

“The one-to-one approach sets NCU apart and is consistent with my own teaching philosophy that is centered on the mentorship of the entire person.”

Eva Mika, PhD, and professor in the School of Business and Technology Management

The one-to-one learning model and its emphasis on the relationship between the student and instructor is what appealed most to Mika. “The one-to-one approach sets NCU apart and is consistent with my own teaching philosophy that is centered on the mentorship of the entire person,” she says. “The degree is only one aspect of their development.”

In 2004, to accommodate its growth, NCU purchased 45 acres in nearby Prescott Valley to build a new campus. This state-of-the-art world headquarters opened in the spring of 2007, and by the end of that year, NCU had 600 graduates, more than 5,400 students representing all 50 U.S. states and 52 other nations around the globe, and a new president, Dr. Clinton D. Gardner.

Gardner took the reigns as the third president of Northcentral University from Dr. Claudia Santin, who had served for just more than a year. Under his tenure, the HLC formally reaffirmed NCU’s accreditation, the University announced Charter Membership in the Golden Key International Honour Society (the largest collegiate honor society) and NCU’s Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy (MAMFT) became an approved degree program for the State of California.

“With the University’s unparalleled flexibility, all-doctoral faculty and one-to-one learning model, NCU continues to deliver on its founding educational vision of providing a personalized experience that enables students to control their educational destiny. On our 20th anniversary, we have much to celebrate.”

George Burnett, President

We have come a long way in 20 years. Last year, NCU received approval from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to transfer its regional accreditation from the HLC to the prestigious Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). Under the current leadership of President George Burnett and Provost, Chief Academic Officer, and General Counsel, Dr. David Harpool, NCU offers more than 14 graduate degree programs and 212 degree specializations across its Schools of Business and Technology Management, Education, and Social and Behavioral Sciences. The NCU class of 2015 boasted 1,476 graduates.

“With all of the changes over the past 20 years, many things have remained constant,” says Burnett. “With the University’s unparalleled flexibility, all-doctoral faculty and one-to-one learning model, NCU continues to deliver on its founding educational vision of providing a personalized experience that enables students to control their educational destiny. On our 20th anniversary, we have much to celebrate.”

NCU Class of 2000