By Liz Mellem - April 3rd, 2017
Becky Takeda-Tinker, Ph.D., or “Dr. Becky” as we call her around the office, has been the President of CSU Global since 2010. She started with CSU Global as an instructor, and then as dean and president, helped build CSU Global into one of the fastest growing universities in the nation. Combining her passion for education and her experience in nonprofit governance and business leadership, Dr. Becky champions data-driven, technology-based solutions to facilitate workplace success for modern learners.
In part one of this two-part series, we sit down with Dr. Becky to learn about her personal motivation and inspiration for dedicating herself to education. Get an inside look at how she turned CSU Global into one of the leading online universities and how she plans to keep it that way, while expanding, for years to come.
In part two we discuss the future of online education and the international influence CSU Global, and Dr. Becky’s leadership, is having in modern education.
CSU Global: Your education is in finance, economics, and organization & management. You were in business and private equity before moving into higher education. What inspired your career change?
BTT: After reaching my personal and professional goals in my business career, I spent some time contemplating what I really wanted to do in the next phase of my life. I knew that I wanted to help Americans move towards ensuring U.S. competitiveness, and given my travel and work around the world, I was aware of two key things:
- Outside of the U.S., people are passionate about the benefits of higher education to move themselves, their families, and their countries forward. Both the people and their governments do everything they can to make college possible.
- Inside the U.S., our high school graduation and college completion scores were declining. Hiring college graduates was a challenge because they wanted significant salaries but weren’t readily equipped to be productive in the workforce. Even the graduates I was hiring, for the companies I was overseeing at that time, proved not to be very effective.
Based on that, rather than continue to complain about the state of American higher education, and the lack of successful student engagement, I decided that I should do something to help. I wanted to inspire completion of a degree or certificate because I believed, and continue to believe strongly, that higher education is the path to a livable wage and sustainable family.
CSU Global: After you established early curriculum for CSU Global, you’d done your job and moved on. Why did you come back later to become president?
BTT: Seven months after I left CSU Global in January 2009, I received a call from someone at the university who was getting ready to leave with many others. The university had spent the loan monies provided by the CSU System Board of Governors and it did not look like the Board was going to provide additional financial support. At that time in history, the U.S. was in the midst of the recession and several other online state institutional initiatives had been closed. It appeared that CSU Global would be another casualty of the time.
Given the unique mission of CSU Global, to facilitate workplace success through education for nontraditional and working students; and its position of being the nation’s first and only 100% online, public, nonprofit, and non-state funded institution, I decided to use my experience and knowledge in organizational turnarounds to help the university survive, if not thrive.
CSU Global: Your passion for education is obvious, do you have a personal connection that drives your professional leadership in the field?
BTT: During World War II my dad and his family were sent to internment camps. After the war ended they were released but didn’t have any assets, so they all worked in a hotel in order to keep a roof over their heads. That lifestyle convinced my dad that he needed to go to college to better his life. While at the University of California, Berkeley, he worked at whatever jobs he could to pay his tuition and living expenses – that responsibility for him, like many nontraditional students, limited his class and university involvement.
My dad really could have benefited from CSU Global’s anytime, anywhere, 100% online format. At least with CSU Global he could have interacted with this instructors and peers, even if it was at 2 a.m. My dad could have had a real college experience back then if CSU Global was around and I want to make sure that opportunity is available for other working adults.
CSU Global: CSU Global is built on the mission of advancing modern students in their careers, how have you embodied this mission in your personal life?
BTT: My passion is actually helping people help themselves; to take care of themselves and their families. As we know, higher education is a pathway to that end, but it isn’t the only way. I spend my personal time serving on boards and participating in a variety of initiatives that facilitate the goal of being self-sufficient.
Currently, I serve on a private company board in which my board fees are donated towards the organization’s employee college scholarships. I’m also on the national board of the Small Business Development Center and on the Governor of Colorado’s Small Business Council because thriving small businesses employ large numbers of people in the U.S. Additionally, I am on the board of the Asian Pacific Development Center which has a focus on adult education towards readiness for U.S. citizenship and higher education.
CSU Global: What was the biggest/hardest challenge you had to overcome with CSU Global?
BTT: The biggest challenge I saw was trying to ensure that the work of CSU Global with its students could demonstrate positive outcomes fast enough and with enough impact, to withstand the higher education industry forces that were not favorable to its survival.
By Colorado state statute, CSU Global does not receive state financial support, so back then, when we had less than 1,000 students, we had to scrape together enough money to make payroll. With that said, the lack of finances was not what kept me up at night. Instead, it was feeling that we were running out of time to prove the worthiness of CSU Global’s unique model.
CSU Global: There’s still a stigma attached to online higher education compared to traditional brick-and-mortar institutions, how can schools like CSU Global overcome that stigma?
BTT: In the last few years, CSU Global has responded to business requests for online organizational training development for their employees. It’s helpful that employers are understanding the strong benefits of online education for their own business needs. We also see employers funding online degrees for employees so we’re really seeing that stigma dissipate in the workplace.
For CSU Global, having come up through a very traditional system, the need to prove our value-add and our academic quality has always been important. We’re quite comfortable tracking and sharing our student data on learning outcomes achievement, nationally-normed assessment comparisons, and longitudinal salary cohort information to showcase what we can, and are doing to serve our mission and the need for workplace success through education. You can’t argue with good data.
CSU Global: What is your favorite part about being president of CSU Global?
BTT: The challenge and opportunity to be innovative and think and act differently. The U.S. does not need another traditional higher education institution, as we have thousands of them. The U.S. does need institutions that have different brand and value propositions so that today’s, and tomorrow’s students, can chose one that best fits their needs.
That variety is increasingly required as our younger generations have already experienced the ability to customize their world to their preferences, even down to the color and design of their Nikes. The challenges that CSU Global takes on will seemingly never cease and that’s exciting to me.
Liz lives in Denver, CO and worked as the content marketing specialist for Colorado State University-Global before freelancing full-time. She earned her bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Kansas in 2007, and her master’s degree in social work from New York University in 2008. Outside of work, Liz enjoys the outdoors, traveling, and spending time with friends.