Columbia Southern University (CSU) has always maintained a student-first philosophy by providing educational opportunities through distance learning to nontraditional 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 Jan. 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 degrees and launched the Learning Partnership program. The Learning Partnership program provides opportunities for businesses, municipalities, organizations and corporations to partner with CSU and receive benefits such as tuition discounts, application fee waivers, and later 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 Sept. 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.

In 2011, CSU’s campus 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. In 2014, CSU was named one of the Best Companies to Work for in Alabama by Business Alabama magazine.

In 2018, the university celebrated its 25th anniversary and 60,000th degree conferral, and it completed a brand refresh and new logo. CSU’s Chief of Staff Ken Styron transitioned into the role of president when Robert Mayes Jr. stepped down to focus on his role as CEO of Columbia Southern Education Group.

Today, CSU continues to focus on building long-term relationships while providing an exceptional student experience and affordable tuition to more than 31,000 students. CSU boasts a faculty and staff of 1,000 who diligently focus on continually improving CSU’s academic programs, services and operations while maintaining an exceptional standard of customer service.