Columbia Southern University History

Columbia Southern University (CSU) has always maintained a student-first philosophy by providing educational opportunities through distance learning to non-traditional students. This vision originated from the founder of CSU, Robert Mayes, Sr. He established a family-oriented culture of caring and respect among staff and faculty that is maintained to this day.

His experience in developing and presenting training programs in environmental compliance and occupational safety for small businesses led to the establishment of two certificate programs in the field, and later, the founding of CSU in 1993.

To fill the void of formal online degree programs for safety and environmental managers, two bachelor’s degree programs were developed in the areas of occupational safety and health and environmental management.

In 1996, online programs beyond the safety and environmental career fields were developed and included business administration, computer science, criminal justice administration and health administration. Achieving accreditation had been a goal for CSU since its inception and that goal became a reality on January 15, 2001, when the Distance Education and Training Council granted national accreditation to CSU.

In 2002, several approvals and affiliation agreements with state schools were achieved along with receiving Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) and Veterans Affairs approval.

In 2003, CSU expanded its international offerings by being one of the first U.S. universities to offer a hybrid (online and classroom) degree program in Vietnam. The opportunity to earn an MBA degree was offered in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Between 2002 and 2004, CSU expanded its degree offerings to include associate degrees and six new bachelor degree majors and launched the learning partnership program. This program provided opportunities for businesses, municipalities, organizations and corporations to partner with CSU and receive  benefits  such as tuition discounts, application fee waivers, and scholarship opportunities, for employees/members and their spouses and children.

As growth continued, CSU moved into a new facility in 2005 on Canal Road in Orange Beach, Alabama. However, this news was soon overshadowed by great sadness to CSU as Robert Mayes, Sr., passed away after a lengthy illness on September 26, 2005. He was succeeded as president by his son, Robert Mayes, Jr.

In 2006, CSU continued to grow as CSU’s student body reached 6,700 active students. Soon, additional staff members were added, and CSU’s one-year old facility began to rapidly approach capacity. In addition, CSU was reaccredited by the Distance Education and Training Council with very high praise from the accreditation team. CSU was also honored by being selected among the first group of colleges and universities to be accepted into the Air Force Academic Institution Portal and into the U.S. Army’s Centralized Tuition Assistance Management (CTAM) program, GoArmyEd.

In 2008, CSU received approval by the U.S. Department of Education to offer Federal Student Aid. In the same year, CSU broke ground on a new 67,000-square-foot building, which opened in 2009.

On January 8, 2010, Waldorf College, a private undergraduate liberal arts college in Iowa, was purchased and became CSU’s sister college.  CSU’s active student count at the end of 2010 was 25,291.  In 2011, CSU’s program in Vietnam became the first distance learning program to be accredited by the Vietnam Ministry of Education and Training.

In 2012, the corporate structure of the organization was changed so that a parent company, Columbia Southern Education Group, would own Columbia Southern University and Waldorf College.


CSU continues to focus on building long-term relationships while providing an exceptional student experience, affordable tuition, and a flexible learning format to approximately 30,000 students. CSU boasts a faculty and staff of over 1,000 who diligently focus on continually improving CSU’s academic programs, services, and operations while maintaining an exceptional standard of student service.