David Chigos: “We like people to make money because a lot of them donate it back to the university and that allows us to keep the tuition down."
It’s a Sunday morning in Mission Valley and perhaps 200 well-dressed adults and a smattering of children are enjoying all the champagne, orange juice, and coffee they care to drink, and gorging themselves with omelets, crepes, fresh fruit, chicken, bacon, cheese blintzes, a hand-carved side of beef, and pastries. Some of those eating sit in plush black leather chairs and sofas, while the rest queue up in the buffet line.
National University, Mission Valley. “If I had to describe my M.B.A. in one word, it’s guilt."
The scene is not being played in a fashionable restaurant or an elegant country club, but rather in the third floor offices of National University's administration building. These brunches are a monthly event at National — open to students, faculty, or anyone else who cares to drop in.
At the opening of the five-million-dollar campus in Vista, guests were entertained by a hot-air balloon and a skydiving exhibition.
The only price for the sumptuous meal is the patience required to sit through a sales pitch for the school, which offers a quick and easy education at sites proliferating around San Diego and Orange counties.
Although National has counselors and administrators roaming about to answer questions, it is David Chigos, founder and president of National University, who is left the task of selling the school — a chore he clearly relishes. The forty-seven-year-old former management development specialist at General Dynamics stands in front of a picture window, an American flag fluttering behind him, as he begins his talk.
Of Greek and Swiss ancestry, Chigos is a rather heavyset man of average height, whose most distinguishing features are bushy Groucho Marx eyebrows, a prominent nose, and a bristly, closely cropped mustache. For those persons not sitting or standing near the president, loudspeakers have been strategically placed throughout the room so his words can be heard by all.
Chigos tells his listeners that one of the advantages National offers over traditional schools is in registering for classes, which he claims takes a week at other schools but only a matter of minutes at National. “Adults don’t have time” for a lengthy registration process, he says.
He then tells the story of how his daughter was not permitted to attend National — presumably because she was not “mature” enough — and how she “nabbed a boy” in the registration line at another school. “So [traditional] colleges aren’t bad if that’s your goal, to meet someone. ...”
Too often, says Chigos, students at traditional universities waste their time on frivolous pranks such as dropping watermelons from buildings or staging bicycle races in the mud — activities better suited to elementary school children, in his view. National University, he declares, offers a “no-nonsense” education “for big people who have been around in the world.
"If you know any young kid who doesn’t play around in the grass and smoke pot all day . . . National University is the place [for such a kid]. All our classrooms are executive classrooms. We have the best facilities of any university in the United States. “ He then introduces Calvin Franklin, a National University graduate and the first black general in the history of the state National Guard, so his audience can see “what a real live National University general looks like.”
Later, Chigos makes an attempt at humor when he says, “Some people remain incurably dumb all their life [sic]. I wish my mother-in-law were here, so I could introduce her to you." A few persons groan. Undeterred, the president then launches into a discussion of how students and prospective students can obtain financial aid from state and federal sources. Almost anybody can receive some form of aid, he says. He again mentions his daughter, who. along with her husband, received financial aid to attend law school. "She doesn‘t have to sit home with her two babies while he gets a law degree. She’ll have a law degree and still sit home with her two babies.”
When he is finished promoting financial aid, Chigos begins pushing membership in the school’s alumni association. After presenting an "alumnus of the month" award to a man who has contributed $20,000 to National, Chigos implies the school will one day be of the same caliber as Stanford, Harvard, and other prestigious institutions when he notes that those schools have strong alumni groups. “We are one of the strongest schools in California and we have nationwide recognition, and it’s because of the alumni association,” he says. “Virtually anybody who is anybody has been down here,” he adds, mentioning Governor Jerry Brown (to decorate the National Guard general) and Congressman-elect Bill Lowery. Chigos closes his remarks by urging his audience to “have fun, make money, and donate it back to the university.”
Money, in fact, is one of Chigos’s favorite subjects. He uses every opportunity he can to suggest that a degree from National will assure one of a hefty income. He often uses these monthly brunches to present National graduates who offer testimonials of their success since obtaining their degrees from the school. In December, Chigos gave the “alumnus of the month" award to Ray Hoobler, former chief of police in San Diego and currently vice president of corporate affairs for Atlas Hotels. Explained Chigos, “If he’s been a police chief and vice president of a multimillion-dollar corporation, he must be a terrific person.” Minutes later, he informs the audience that a former classmate of Hoobler, who is now a “megamillionaire” in Africa, had telephoned to extend his congratulations to the former police chief. Then Chigos introduces a woman graduate from the school, who, after getting her degree, opened a dance studio and “made a profit the very first month and has made tons of money ever since.”
He doesn’t stop there. At the same brunch he announces, “We have people [graduates] with every company in town. ” He also notes that National students have a high loan-pay-back rate, which he says indicates that “we have good people” and “they’re making a bundle.” Continues Chigos, “We like people to make money because a lot of them donate it back to the university and that allows us to keep the tuition down. Go out there and make money,” he exhorts his listeners, “because in the last analysis, it’s better to be rich than poor."
Despite Chigos’s rosy portrayal of National. the school is not as strong nor as well recognized as he would have one believe. Critics, including some faculty and students, claim courses are too easy and that the school is little more than a “diploma mill. “And currently the university's academic accreditation is on probation, in spite of the best efforts of school officials to convince the accrediting agency of the rightness of their program. The story of David Chigos and National University is a remarkable one, nevertheless.
In 1971 Chigos was a thirty-eight-year-old employee of General Dynamics who trained management personnel in executive skills, when he and some other executives at the company decided to start National University. It was their belief that traditional colleges and universities made it almost impossible for executives like themselves to earn a degree, so National was formed to “fill a need, “ as Chigos and his subordinates are often fond of saying. The first class numbered only twenty-seven students and Chigos kept the university’s records in the trunk of his car. Students in the early days met in such places as the backyard of Chigos’s Point Loma home, at General Dynamics, the Naval Training Center, and a building on Rosecrans Street near Midway Drive.
Only one year later Chigos had seen a large enough increase in students at the private, nonprofit school that he was to proclaim to a reporter from the Union, “The list of graduates looks like a ‘Who’s Who’ in the management personnel of the San Diego industrial plants and military commands.”
Chigos, who has a bachelor’s degree from West Virginia Wesleyan and master’s and doctorate degrees in human behavior from United States International University in San Diego, stressed that his school was for “mature” students, and that the mostly business-related curriculum would not include “frill’’courses. “Most of our people are successful, so they don’t have time to waste on irrelevancies,” he stated. “Along with the courses, we teach them to think like winners.”
Today at National, students study only one subject at a time, for four consecutive weeks. A typical class meets two evenings a week (only a few courses are offered during the day) for about four hours a session, and one Saturday for eight hours. Chigos claims this permits better comprehension and allows students to take a vacation, or in the case of sailors, go out to sea, without interrupting work in several different classes. Most degree programs are composed of fifteen courses. Students wishing to enroll in an undergraduate degree program who are transferring credits from another school are supposed to have a 2.0 grade point average, although that can be waived by a committee on admissions and standards. Five or more years of work experience is preferred of all students. An applicant for admission to a master's degree program is required to have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university with a grade point average of 2.5 or better.
A sophisticated computer system allows students to register just once for all the classes required to obtain the degree they desire, rather than registering every semester, as students at other universities do. Computer terminals permeate every corner of the Mission Valley campus, from the library to the classrooms to the desks of counselors and administrators. They permit students to have access to a variety of information, including what courses they have completed and those they have scheduled for the future, what loans are available, job opportunities, and a list of company recruiters who will be coming to campus and on what date. Also available is personal data, such as the student’s nickname, his birthdate, the name of his employer, and the license number of his car. If a student wishes to make a change in his program, he merely notifies his counselor, who then makes the necessary changes via the computer.
During his first few years of operation, Chigos received praise from some local media for his unconventional views on the role of a university president. Supposedly, any student could approach the affable founder of the school at his desk in a comer of a large room with no partitions on the third floor of the National administration building and discuss a problem without making an appointment. Chigos even answered his own phone and said he didn't believe executives need secretaries. He even watered the plants near his desk, reported one writer.
One of the most unusual features of National is its faculty. Very few of the more than 400 instructors at the school are employed on a full-time basis, and tenure is regarded as heresy. Instead, National hires a large number of individuals who, in most cases, have master’s or doctorate degrees and experience working in "the real world.” Chigos says a professor at National must have at least ten years work experience, and he advises students to think of themselves as clients and their instructors as consultants. Many instructors at traditional schools have advanced degrees, Chigos concedes, "but they don’t know what they’re talking about. They shoot from the hip. You don’t want to learn from a failure. We interview sometimes forty Ph.D.s for a position.” At National, he adds, instructors are "people with degrees who have proven themselves as winners.” Chigos notes that utilizing an almost entirely part-time faculty enables National to attract top-notch instructors who cannot afford to leave lucrative positions in private industry. Certainly they wouldn’t do so to teach at National. Faculty members interviewed say the starting pay is about $1000 per one-month course. National’s vice president and general counsel, Bob White, says a part-time faculty is preferable because "tenure no longer does what it was intended to do, which was to protect one from outside political intervention.” Now, he maintains, it protects "organizational status” much the same way civil service does. "Tenure can be used to make a young person toe the mark . . . conform to some departmental conduct, when in fact they would like to speak out.”
Jim Buckalew has seen both sides of the issue. A tenured and respected professor of journalism at San Diego State, Buckalew taught a few communications courses at National. He views the almost nonexistent full-time faculty at National as a weakness, and instructors there as having no real input into school policies. "You don’t have a core of people truly involved in the progress of the school,” he says. "They teach their classes and then they’re gone. I’d go up for my classes . . . and when I was done, that was it.”
Another striking feature at National is the military influence that permeates the school. Apparently Chigos believes military personnel make for "mature” students — they constitute a substantial percentage of National’s enrollment. Buckalew estimated thirty-five to forty percent of his students were off-duty military personnel, and another thirty-five to forty percent were recently discharged or military retirees. Another National instructor guesses that as many as sixty to seventy percent of his students have been enlisted in the Navy. National’s Bob White puts the percentage of active duty military personnel at about fourteen percent.
There are branches of National University on military bases such as Camp Pendleton, Miramar, and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot; advertisements call it “a serviceman’s opportunity college.” Chigos retired from the Navy in 1967 with the rank of lieutenant commander, and he has remained active in the Navy League. His office wall is lined with plaques and certificates from organizations such as the Naval War College, the Naval Reserve Association, and most of all, from the Navy League. Outside the office is a painting of a warship, courtesy of the Navy League. Elsewhere on the third floor is a large color photograph in a wood frame of Chigos in Naval uniform; several model airplanes are placed here and there. Other items on display are equally curious, among which is a certificate from Chigos to his wife to commemorate her becoming a member of the President’s Associates — a group that has donated or pledged large sums of money to the university. Near the certificate is a second certificate noting that National sponsored a Bobby Sox team. In a prominent place near the third-floor elevator is an American flag encased behind wood and glass, which, according to an adjoining letter from retiring Congressman Bob Wilson, once flew over the nation’s capitol. And near that is a proclamation from Mayor Pete Wilson declaring July 5, 1975 as “National University Day.’’ The proclamation is not as prestigious as it might appear. Wilson spokesman Otto Bos says the city issues an average of three to four such proclamations a week, as many as 200 of them every year.
Despite his stated distaste for allowing young persons to attend his school, Chigos isn’t adverse to bending the rules a bit if the youngster is in the military or is likely to become a good military officer. In 1977 National offered $500 scholarships to all 105 enlisted men and women honored by the Chamber of Commerce, and the following year the school assigned $5000 in scholarships to Leatherneck Charities, Inc., to be awarded to outstanding high school students who had completed Junior Reserve Officer Training programs. White adds that “a significant number” of scholarships are dispensed to military commanding officers, who then award them to deserving recruits. "We recognize good people whenever we can,” says White.
White, too, is a former military man, having served in the Navy for more than twenty-one years before joining his friend Chigos at National in 1976. So, too, was a former vice president of the school, Alan Toffler, who was a retired Army officer. Even the dean of the law school, Victor Bianchini, who resigned last month, was, in addition to his legal credentials, a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps reserve, a former commander of a parachute battalion, and winner of a bronze star and three air medals in Vietnam. The Navy Credit Union occupies a prominent place in one of National’s two Mission Valley buildings. Chigos's infatuation with the military even extends to the school’s commencement speakers, who have included Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., former chief of naval operations; Rear Adm. James R. Ahern, deputy comptroller of the U.S. Navy; and Maj. Gen. Frank Schober, Jr., commanding general of the California National Guard. Another notable speaker was Maurice Stans, chief fundraiser in Richard Nixon's scandal-ridden 1972 re-election campaign, and commerce secretary to the former president.
Since its first class of twenty-seven students, National has undergone amazing growth. Today there are about 6200 students attending a National campus or “learning center.” making it the third largest independent university in California. according to Chigos. In addition to owning two buildings on prime Mission Valley land valued at more than ten million dollars. National recently opened a $4.5 million-dollar campus in Vista, and now operates out of some twenty-seven “learning centers” in shopping centers and military bases throughout San Diego and Orange counties. These learning centers are smaller, satellite facilities where residents of outlying communities may attend classes instead of commuting to the Mission Valley or Vista campus. National counselor Bill Paxton proudly notes that all learning centers have the same carpeting, paneled walls, and computers as the Mission Valley campus. Chigos has said the learning centers and the Vista campus were established to reduce driving and to help out in the energy crisis. “We want to take education closer to the people,” Chigos said in 1974. “Successful people seeking increased knowledge don’t have time to waste commuting. They want to go near their work or their home.”
With the increased land holdings and students came the acquisition of Cabrillo Pacific College of Law in 1979 — now called National University School of Law — and the addition of nine enormous motorhomes to tour the county spreading the National message. When National was accredited for a three-year period in 1977, it seemed the fledgling school could only become more prosperous. But the school’s future was clouded last July when the accrediting team from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) placed National on a two-year academic probation. During that period. National would have to show why its accreditation should not be revoked. WASC cited National's scant full-time faculty, the speed with which it adds classes and learning centers, and substandard academic planning. quality control, and report filing as some of the reasons for the probation.
Accreditation is generally considered the stamp of approval among universities in the nation and is granted or denied after a team of officials from other universities tours the campus for several days to determine if the faculty, facilities, and curriculum merit accreditation. A smoother transfer of credits from one institution to another also is ensured with accreditation.
Chigos reacted angrily to the WASC-imposed probation, especially its criticism of National’s lack of a full-time faculty. WASC generally prefers to see about fifty percent of a university’s faculty employed on a full-time basis, with the remainder teaching part-time. National doesn’t even come close. Chigos insisted National would not add more full-time faculty “unless I see some definite advantage for the quality of our education. Frankly, we have seen evidence that full-time faculty are the curse of the education system.”
The National president insisted his school would not change to meet WASC’s standards, but instead would convince WASC of the wisdom of National’s ways. “Most of the students at WASC-accredited campuses would not be accepted at National,” Chigos declared, even though his vice president. Bob White, estimates between ninety-four and ninety-seven percent of National’s students have had prior college or university educational experience and master’s degree candidates transferring to the school must have earned previous credits at an accredited school. Again Chigos used his daughter as an example of National’s superiority. “I sent my daughter to a state campus because she saw the university as a place to find a husband. She found one, but she would not have done so at National.” Chigos even went so far as to say it would have been a ‘‘personal disappointment ’’ to him if WASC had extended National’s accreditation because “it would have indicated that we met their outmoded criteria. It was like a bunch of managers from the Chrysler Corporation evaluating a Mercedes-Benz and asking where we were going to put the fins. We have bank and corporate vice presidents as our student body, and a Marine Corps general. We have proved ourselves in the marketplace. We have been accredited by the public, and that is what really counts.” Despite those brave words, Chigos requested a review of the WASC action.
A second review team toured the campus, and Bill Paxton, the National counselor, said its members were “envious” of what the university had accomplished. White, the vice president, said he thought the evaluation team’s report would be favorable and added that no school has ever lost its accreditation from WASC. Paxton and White must have been surprised then when WASC ruled last month that it will continue the school’s probation, with the campus eligible to apply for reinstatement to full accreditation by the fall of 1982. Unlike its earlier ruling, WASC did not order the school to show cause why its accreditation should not be revoked in 1982. Nevertheless, White stated he would request a public hearing on the decision. He blamed criticism of National by officials of other local universities for influencing the WASC decision.
The following day, U.S. Magistrate Victor Bianchini, who had been dean of National’s law school since August of 1979, resigned, but denied the WASC action was the reason. A change in his duties at the U.S. District Court forced him to reduce his administrative workload, said Bianchini.
National’s probation status almost certainly caused officials at other San Diego universities to smile smugly. Several presidents and administrators complained when the school was accredited in 1977. What factors accounted for that decision aren’t really known because WASC’s findings aren’t public record, and the only information that can be obtained is what National officials choose to release. But one local university president says he and the presidents of other San Diego universities inexplicably received in the mail a copy of the WASC report in 1977 that granted accreditation to National. And, says the president, the report was highly critical of National, causing university officials to wonder why the accreditation was even given. The criticism leveled by these university officials hasn’t softened in the ensuing three years. In fact, San Diego State, Point Loma College, USD, and local community colleges will not accept the transfer of credits earned at National. Chigos says that’s merely sour grapes on their part, that National is drawing students from those schools. Officials at the schools say their objections to National are more substantial than that.
Robert O’Neill, dean of the school of business at the University of San Diego, was formerly a professor at the University of Connecticut when that institution received its accreditation from the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business, an agency he described as having a blue-ribbon panel of accreditors. USD is currently developing a graduate-level program following the guidelines of that association, he said. O’Neill added that the group wouldn’t even consider National for accreditation because of its inadequate ratio of full-time instructors. “A major drawback to part-time instructors is that they do not have time or the dedication to devote to their courses,” he said. WASC states as one of its standards for receiving accreditation that “faculty are committed to instruction and to scholarly or creative activity.” Critics such as O’Neill suspect that National, with its honor roll of successful businessmen on its staff, may find it difficult to show how its faculty manages to engage in “scholarly or creative activity” with the demanding schedule of a bank vice president or a corporate accountant.
Educators generally agree that the hours spent before a class in preparation and after class in reviewing students’ papers are the most essential in providing a meaningful course of instruction. The hours actually spent in the classroom are marginal compared to the time needed to develop curriculum materials and to evaluate student work, as well as staying well versed in the field of study. Says Allan Bailey, dean of San Diego State’s school of business, “A student at National is not getting a college degree in any sense of the word. State considers the work that the student actually does in class accounts for about twenty-five percent of his or her time. The rest of the time needed to adequately meet the requirements of the course includes research in the library, reading sophisticated work of between 700 and 1000 pages a course, and maturing time to assimilate the knowledge.” He suggests this kind of intensive study could not be accomplished in the four weeks that National students complete each course.
USD’s O’Neill believes National’s modular scheduling, which has also been implemented at several other schools in the United States, is a good idea, but cautions that “there is always the danger of compartmentalizing knowledge.” He also agrees with the value of acquiring experience with “the real world,” and adds, “USD would prefer a student with a good experience to draw from; however, we would not discriminate on age. The older, experienced professional can learn a great deal from the perspective of a motivated young person.” But O’Neill takes exception to the “ivory tower” accusation so often used by Chigos in describing the faculties at traditional universities. “The marketing professors at USD are at the frontiers of knowledge. Their articles are published in journals and other business publications. They are also involved in high-level consulting work with chief executives throughout the world. If they were, in fact, stuffy academicians, they wouldn’t be asked for their services.” The USD official also expresses confusion over Chigos’s frequently critical statements regarding traditional university education while dwelling at length on the degrees National instructors have obtained at traditional schools. And although Chigos has said he would have been disappointed had 1 WASC accredited National, O’Neill notes that it was Chigos who asked WASC for an accrediting team to visit the campus.
The most common criticism of National, however, is that its courses are too easy. O’Neill relates the story of a disgruntled USD graduate student who visited his office. The young Navy ensign complained about the stringent requirements at USD and the fact that he found himself hitting the books every night just to keep pace with his classmates. He reported that some of the other ensigns he worked with were attending National and seemingly never had to study. His complaint was that the Navy didn’t make a distinction between a USD degree and a degree from National, so he saw no point in working hard when his friends weren’t.
“I never thought of learning as an easy process,” says O’Neill. “It would be immoral for USD to accept money from one who couldn’t succeed in its program.”
There is a feeling among some faculty and students at National that students there rarely fail. One instructor who has given failing grades says, “I get the impression there are many open-book exams that they [students] expect to pass.” Adds a colleague who also has failed students, “1 have been told that I’m one of the few (to give failing grades]. I got the feeling from the students that I was atypical rather than typical. “ The instructor recalls at the conclusion of one course he taught, word got around that he had failed a class member and “the phone rang off the hook” with calls from alarmed students concerned they may have been the unfortunate one. This same instructor agrees with O’Neill and Bailey that four weeks is not enough time to teach or learn the subject matter of a course. He says he would often cover four topics in one evening and that time constraints would make it impossible to test students on each topic. Also, he’s come to believe that students weary from a full day of working often expect to be entertained in the evening and want little outside reading. “It's tough on the students. It’s tough on the instructors,” he says. According to Bob White, however. “Every student here is working very hard.”
That doesn’t jibe with what a Navy lieutenant currently enrolled at National has to say. He became interested in the school when friends told him attending class was easier than going to work. ”Not many people prepare for classes at National, based on the three I’ve taken,” says the lieutenant. "Students go to class cold and don’t prepare for anything and expect to learn everything at class. This is true for a good plurality of the students. I’ve heard rumors around the students that it’s intentionally set up that way. They’re not to make extra work or be difficult, because students have full-time jobs, et cetera.”
The lieutenant’s comments are echoed by two former National students who are both lieutenant commanders in the Navy. Loy Rickman completed six courses, four of them with honors (the equivalent of an A), in National’s master’s program in business administration before quitting because, “I couldn't feel honest about getting an M.B.A. degree without getting an M.B.A. education. I never had a challenge. This is absolutely the easiest way in the world to get a master's degree.”
Paul Patterson did obtain a master's degree from National, but says now. “If I had to describe my M.B.A. in one word, it’s guilt. It was a piece of cake. I got out of it exactly what 1 wanted. I wanted something that was easy, because I didn’t have a lot of time to study. For all the courses I took, I had maybe two closed-book exams.” Other tests, Patterson recalls, were open-book or take-home. Moreover, he was not required to write a thesis for his degree. Both Patterson and Rickman say they think National caters to persons already employed with a company, for whom a degree is necessary for advancement and pay increase. "I hesitate to say that’s what Chigos plays on,” Rickman says, “but an awful lot of people I know have gone through to get a promotion or a pay raise.” Patterson received a better salary from the Navy once he got his degree, but he says, “I’m not proud of the degree and I wouldn’t expect to get out of the Navy and sell it.” A National instructor concurs that the holder of a degree from the university probably wouldn’t fare as well in his first foray into the job market as a graduate from most other institutions, but ‘‘it’s a nice neat way of getting a credential,” he says. And if one “has a foot in the door and this will advance you, then do it.” Rickman and Patterson agree that many of the faculty members at National are excellent instructors, but they say most courses are undemanding because both students and faculty, in most cases, have worked all day before class and because of what they believe to be lax admission standards. “If you’ve got a college degree and $290, they’ll take you,” says Rickman of the M.B.A. program.
Rickman, Patterson, and other students have commented on the lengthy breaks given in some classes, and the early hour at which those classes adjourn. Rickman recalls a rare instructor who did require his class to do some outside reading and kept them until 9:30 p.m., as called for. “People were bitching in class because they were overworked. They weren’t used to it at National,” he recalls. Patterson says students had become so accustomed to generous breaks (up to a half hour) and early departures from their classes that in one class, a retired Navy master chief would hold a sign up with a picture of a frog on it and words to the effect “It’s Time to Quit,” when he felt a break was needed or it was time to go home.
Yet despite their criticism, Rickman and Patterson believe National could be an excellent school. ”1 think the concept of National is fantastic,” says Rickman. “I think the execution is lousy. I think it’s a real shame it’s being run as it is, because it could be a great benefit to so many persons. I think the people at fault here are those who accredited it.”
What National may lack in rigorous academics, it more than makes up for in advertising. The university has nine enormous motorhomes (estimated sale price: around $20,000 apiece) spreading the word about National. At least eight full-page ads appeared last year in Time magazine’s locally zoned editions at a cost of up to $960 each, according to an advertising representative in Time's Los Angeles office. Radio and television spots are aired on a regular basis, and ads frequently appear in the San Diego Union, Evening Tribune, and the Reader. The Union and Tribune have run the ads an average of once or twice a week for the past three years at a cost of more than $500 a day. (A review of the nonprofit institution’s federal tax returns shows that $268,000 was spent on advertising in 1977; the next year that figure increased to $410,000.)
National’s promotion of itself isn’t limited to just these traditional forms of advertising. Students and visitors to the Mission Valley campus are inundated with class catalogues in the lobby and reprints of favorable stories that have appeared in periodicals such as the San Diego Union. the Daily Transcript, and even the New York Times (written by a former Union staff writer). Reproductions of National University advertisements, as well as a weekly school newsletter and another newsletter (the North Islander, aimed specifically at the military), are neatly arranged in the lobby. The university hopes not only to win new converts with its avalanche of literature, but also to sustain the interest of those students already enrolled. Attempts to accomplish the latter are often conspicuous. In recent months, posted on the door of every classroom, was a letter from a Marine Corps major to Chigos, thanking him for a seminar on career planning provided by National at Camp Pendleton. It was a routine sort of correspondence, but Chigos, or somebody at National. inscribed a “Well done!” at the top of the letter and added a star to or underlined other passages in the three-paragraph letter. More recently, the same treatment was accorded a letter to Chigos from a Mercy Hospital official who expressed his gratitude for National's cooperation in an emergency-medical-training seminar conducted at the school.
This has been common practice, according to at least one student. He says that for a period of two or three months literature was placed on students’ desks the first night of class every week, and included such things as stories that were favorable about National or negative about San Diego State, with the most damning passages underlined. (A reprint of a December, 1980 story in the San Diego Union about state colleges linking more students to a computer system had written across the top of it, “We’ve had this since 1977!” The “1977” was underlined four times.) The student said this practice has ceased recently, and National’s vice president. Bob White, says the only material placed on students’ desks each week is the National bulletin. White defends the school’s self-promotion by noting that other institutions have football teams (UCSD does not) that get them free publicity. “We don’t have a football team, other than the Imperial Beach Raiders in the Pop Warner League,” says White wryly. “We’re proud of what our faculty and students have done. I think an institution should make known its accomplishments. . . . I think it’s perfectly appropriate. We spend our funds in a way that will best benefit the students. We’re providing a superlative educational experience to those that care to come.”
Since last September, students have had the option of experiencing National University at a new five-million-dollar campus in Vista. The grand opening of the Vista campus was staged in typically flamboyant style — the flags of every state lined the driveway leading to the university, and American flags hung from the balcony of every classroom. A Marine Corps color guard was on hand and a mariachi band roamed the premises. Guests were entertained by a hot-air balloon and a skydiving exhibition. Long lines of people waited patiently to partake of a Mexican-food buffet and margaritas. In one such line, a man in his thirties, who wore a three-piece Yves Saint Laurent suit, told his woman companion that National is a “fabulous” school. The woman nodded her head in earnest agreement. “The big thing is the teachers,” she said, mimicking a National advertisement. “They’re not in an Ivy League tower.” Scarcely a word was said about scholarship by the speakers who stepped forward. John Berry, of the North County Navy League, praised Chigos for being “a strong supporter of our Naval Reserve program.” Chigos spoke at great length about how the Vista site was chosen and the negotiating involved in obtaining the land. Perhaps the most salient words of the day were spoken by Vista Mayor Gloria McClellan when she told the audience, “This is only the beginning. Keep your eye on National University and David Chigos as he realizes his dream, which can only happen in America.”