Merriam-Webster defines “courage” as the mental or moral strength to venture, persevere and withstand danger, fear or difficulty.
The dictionary describes “change” as to make different, shift or undergo a modification.
Those words play directly into how the Columbia Daily Tribune characterized the pivotal events at Columbia College in the early 1970s, when many private colleges were cutting back and closing their doors amid a particularly turbulent time within the evolving landscape of higher education.
“Columbia College made it,” the Tribune reported on March 9, 1975, “because it had the courage to change.”
Christian College updated its name to Columbia College. The school switched from a two-year junior college to a baccalaureate institution. Male students were admitted for the first time. African American students came to the college after being recruited from across the nation, forging a vital integration of the student body.
Last but not least, faculty branched out to teach classes to nontraditional students at sites located away from main campus – mostly on military bases at first before also expanding to civilian outposts – forming what was originally called the Extended Studies Division (ESD).
“Columbia College made it because it had the courage to change.”Columbia Daily Tribune in March 1975
“We shall not be afraid of change and experiment,” Dr. W. Merle Hill, Columbia College’s 13th president, said at the time of the major shifts under his administration, which spanned from 1965 to 1977.
First known as ESD, then as Adult Higher Education (AHE) and now as Columbia College Global, the division is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2023 with special events across the country.
Even the progression of the division’s various titles sheds light on its spirit of continual reimagination.
The priority remains how to best serve adult learners and military-affiliated students who are furthering their education through one of the college’s nationwide locations or the Online Program while balancing family, work and school.
The foundation of Columbia College Global was built by the innovation of the leaders who shaped its first five decades, says Dr. Shadel Hamilton, vice president for Columbia College Global.
“Columbia College has been at the forefront of innovation, and I have no doubt that we will continue to be in that position moving forward,” Hamilton says. “We now have an opportunity to put our fingerprints on the future, be a part of the history and stand on the shoulders of those who came before us to take Columbia College Global to the next level.”
Courage to meet a need
A simple request by a U.S. Army education services officer named Ted Messick resulted in a courageous response with a profound ripple effect. Messick asked Hill, who served in the Army during World War II, whether the college could offer educational opportunities to Army recruiters away from its main campus.
By the spring of 1973, faculty members were driving to St. Louis to teach classes to military recruiters, beginning the concept of nationwide locations. Within a year, the number of ESD teaching locations increased to 75, made possible by the hiring of adjunct faculty. By the summer of 1975, the division reached as many as 155 teaching locations with nearly 3,000 students across more than 30 states.
“If approached about offering a class, Columbia College would try to meet that request, wherever and whenever the college could find a qualified instructor and teaching location,” says René Massey ’84 ’98 ’01, who worked for the division from 1981 to 2015, rising up the ranks to associate dean. She is regarded as a living encyclopedia of the division’s history. “There weren’t any campuses with full-time staff yet, just an instructor and students.”
Soon, the focus of ESD adjusted to creating actual sites with a schedule of classes, staff and structure.
“In the beginning of the division, things were a bit chaotic,” Massey says. “But when it all got straightened out, there were policies and structure and a foundation from which to build.”
With access to education extending in every direction beyond main campus, the bold creation of the new division proved beneficial not only to military personnel but also to civilian adult learners.
“It is a program in which anybody who has ever been connected with it can take a great deal of pride,” Lt. Col. Don Foster, an early dean for ESD, said in reflection upon his retirement. “It is part of the flexibility the college has always demonstrated.”
The first decade of what is now Columbia College Global brought the opening of 10 locations that will be reaching their respective 50th anniversaries by 2025.
These original locations include St. Louis (Missouri), Fort Leonard Wood (Missouri), Evening Campus (Missouri), Jefferson City (Missouri), Lake County (Illinois), Denver (Colorado), Orlando (Florida), Redstone Arsenal (Alabama), NASJRB Fort Worth (Texas) and Salt Lake City (Utah).
Under the direction of several influential leaders to come, ESD further cemented its standing.
“We just grew and grew and grew,” Massey says. “It was like riding on a rocket ship.”
Courage in leadership
Col. Frank Westling is among the key leaders credited with bringing order to the initial chaos.
“Frank was the genius,” says Dr. Donald Ruthenberg, the 15th president of Columbia College from 1984 to 1995.
Westling served as an adjunct faculty member at the Lake County location when Foster asked if the fellow Vietnam War veteran would retire from the Army and work at the main campus.
Westling arrived in 1975 and devoted his efforts as dean toward helping ESD manage its rapid growth.
“Frank developed the structure within the division, and campuses were supported by on-site administrators,” Massey says. “He was not going to have anything less than professional, quality education offered to this group of students for whom he felt a real affinity.”
Massey remembers Westling as a smart, engaging leader who connected with faculty, staff and students.
“He kept lines of communication open and would call the campus directors sometimes just to tell a joke,” Massey says. “He had great relationships with everybody. But make no mistake, you weren’t ever going to win an argument – he was just too sharp.”
The Frank Westling Memorial Scholarship, created the year following his death, continues to provide funding every year to students who exemplify Westling’s qualities, beyond just academics.
Fellow Army veteran Frazier Moon ’74, one of the first male graduates of Columbia College, was the division’s director of administration handling state approvals, leases and other related responsibilities. Moon succeeded Westling, his longtime colleague, as the next dean for ESD in 1987, bringing a calm but commanding presence to the position over the next nine years.
“Frazier was a quiet, yet powerful man,” Massey says. “He carried himself with such command that he didn’t have to use a lot of words to be heard. His greatest strength was that he allowed leaders to be leaders.”
To this day, the Frazier Moon Location of the Year Award recognizes the most outstanding Columbia College Global location for consistently achieving the highest standards of effectiveness, efficiency, timeliness and adherence to college policies and procedures. Foster created this award in honor of Moon but never made public the fact that he was behind its creation, Massey says.
Scholarships in honor of Westling and Moon are among ways to support adult learners and military-affiliated students. Visit my.ccis.edu/GiveNow to search giving opportunities.
Dr. Gerald Brouder, the college’s 16th president, hired retired Air Force Col. Mike Randerson to lead ESD in 1996 with another priority at the forefront: integrating the division with the rest of the college.
Brouder described the nationwide locations at the time as “individual little fiefdoms,” Randerson recalls.
Furthermore, “Extended Studies was absolutely standalone,” Randerson says, handling its own marketing, contract negotiations and everything in between separate from the rest of the college. Over the first several years of his 18 working at the college, Randerson teamed with Brouder to establish increased collaboration between main campus faculty and staff and those with Adult Higher Education, as the division became known during this era.
“Truly, it was gratifying to see two distinct entities – Adult Higher Education and main campus – come together and have people really working together for the college,” says Randerson, who is now a member of the institution’s Board of Trustees.
This process coincided with the rise of the internet and the use of emerging technology that aided in more efficient processes and communications among AHE leaders around the nation.
“We moved from paper processes to 100% electronic, web-based processing,” Massey says.
New technology would soon lead to perhaps the biggest breakthrough the college has ever known.
Courage as a pioneer
Dr. Terry Smith remembers being on the verge of a new frontier in nontraditional higher education. Initially, however, it wasn’t completely clear what that frontier would entail.
At one point the leading idea was palm pilots. Then it was CD-ROMs. As executive vice president and dean for Academic Affairs, Smith cautioned the college against trends that could be obsolescent.
“There’s going to be a technology that comes along really soon,” Smith recalls thinking.
Of course, that technology turned into what is now Online Education. Dr. Arlin Epperson, who had taught Business courses, researched Columbia College’s potential future in Online Education, talking with competitors and strategizing what that mode could look like.
Epperson established the college’s connection with Desire 2 Learn, its Online Education portal.
“(Epperson) was a wealth of information and a champion of Online from the beginning,” Randerson says.
After expressing reluctance about starting the Online Program, Brouder was won over by his advisors, who appeased their boss by formulating plans for how the college could adapt to new demands of the military and provide degree programs of the same rigor as those offered to students on the main campus.
Brouder ensured the process boldly proceeded in an atmosphere of civility and respect, Randerson says.
Academic Affairs initially oversaw the Online Program as Smith, Randerson and other key leaders worked through the early stages of course development and management.
“Online was a perfect thing for us,” Randerson recalls. “Not only was it the right thing at the right time, but we already had a pool of adjunct faculty – the human resource to start mounting these classes. We were able to actually meet demand and then had to meld the processes. We weren’t the first in online education, but we were a very early adapter. There was a lot of courage to step out and do that.”
Smith, 2023 Honorary Alumni Award recipient, says it was critical for the Online Program to have the support of full-time faculty members.
“My role was to make sure that faculty were understanding that this was a critical part of the college’s portfolio and it was important for them to maintain as active a role in it as possible,” he says.
Launching in October 2000, there were 180 students taking 10 classes online. At the peak of the surge, there were 18,000 students taking 900 classes digitally. The Online Program expanded from six staff members to more than 50 in just a few years, in addition to hundreds of adjunct instructors.
Dr. Gary Massey ’85, a retired Coast Guard officer who had served as the St. Louis location director, became director of the Online Program in 2004 before his elevation to dean for AHE in 2010.
“Every school that offered online classes had to convince people that it was quality education,” he says. “Time after time, assessment exams showed that online students did just as well and, in some cases, better than in-seat students. That brought us credibility.”
Massey collaborated with a team including associate deans Dr. Eric Cunningham and Gary Oedewaldt to facilitate the growth of AHE through its most significant period of change in 30 years.
“We worked really hard to prove that you really could get a higher education, and a quality one, at the feet of adjunct faculty who were 2,000 miles away from the flagpole at 1001 Rogers Street,” says Cunningham, a retired Army colonel who oversaw the development of curriculum within the division.
Ensuring the integrity of adjunct faculty was of paramount importance, says Oedewaldt, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who worked at the Fort Leonard Wood location before coming to main campus.
“We weren’t going to take the backseat to anybody in terms of quality,” Oedewaldt says.
The surge in enrollments thanks to the success of the Online Program enabled significant investment into the college’s endowment, which grew from $3 million in the 1990s to over $150 million.
“We got in at just the right time,” Smith says.
Courage in next steps
In the spirit of recognizing Columbia College Global’s golden anniversary, leaders from past and present looked to the future and discussed how the college can apply lessons learned from the past five decades.
The school will have to change again, but it can’t lose its root family relationship, Ruthenberg says.
“I don’t know what the next 50 years will portend, but institutions that just are looking for survival will not survive,” Ruthenberg says. “We can’t make things work just because they worked before.”
There is a blueprint from the decades of growth that can help guide Columbia College Global forward, albeit in constantly developing circumstances, René Massey says.
“We were built from change,” she says. “That’s the legacy of the division and the college – you have to keep changing to be relevant. I expect (Columbia College) to morph into even more easily accessed education and to also keep its heart. To be the same wonderful institution, providing quality education, perhaps done differently.”
COVID-19 has exasperated headwinds that were already starting to crop up, Randerson says, making this a critical time in the college’s 172 years of existence.
“We’ve got a compelling history,” Randerson says. “We have expertise. We’ve done it and done it well. The college will have to change again, and we are in the process of changing. We have to focus on the critical pieces that the future holds for us.”
Now is the time to begin figuring out what the next 50 years are going to be like, he says.
“This is the latest batch of Columbia College folks who have to start thinking outside of the box, who have to take some risks, who will face challenging times but will live up to it as we always have,” Randerson says.
Smith says Columbia College Global’s significance to the college cannot be overstated.
“I think it is very likely that Columbia College would not exist had it not been for what is now Columbia College Global,” Smith says. “But beyond that, there are literally hundreds of thousands of people now all over the world who have gotten or are getting powerful post-secondary education, because we provide it and we provide it at a cost that is reasonable. What we’re doing is very, very important and is making a difference in the world.”
In the same way as in 1973, Columbia College’s mission continues to improve lives by providing quality education and empowering students from all walks of life to achieve their true potential.
“Fifty years from now, I see Columbia College continuing to be a leader in this space,” Hamilton says. “We’ll shift along with the times like our leaders have always done. We will plug a gap and not be afraid to change.”
- In December 1973, Columbia College held a Commencement ceremony for its first-ever class of military personnel, awarding 47 bachelor’s degrees and 38 associate degrees.
- Columbia College Global houses four locations in Illinois. The Lake County/NS Great Lakes location was founded first in 1974, offering post-secondary education opportunities for sailors at a local naval station.
- As one of the college’s first installations to serve military students and working adults, Columbia College Global’s Fort Leonard Wood (Missouri) location was founded in 1974.
- The Redstone Arsenal (Alabama) installation was founded in 1975.
- The Kansas City (Missouri) location was originally established in Blue Springs, Missouri (1988), then moved to Independence, Missouri (1993), and finally set its current roots at Blue Ridge Tower (2006).
- Serving as one of nine Columbia College Global locations in California, the Los Alamitos installation was founded in 1997 at a Joint Forces Training Center.
- In 1998, the Columbia College Global location at NS Everett/Marysville (Washington) became the first location nationwide to offer graduate courses to its students.
- Currently, 15 states have a Columbia College Global location: Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington.
- Located in central Missouri, the Lake of the Ozarks location celebrated its new campus building in 2005.
- There are currently three Columbia College Global locations in San Diego (California): MCRD San Diego, NB San Diego and USCG Sector San Diego.