OK, so who among you hasn’t seen at least one TV advertisement for Southern New Hampshire University? That would be no one. But I also expect that almost no one knows the nearly 100-year history of this mega-university, including me (until yesterday).
Upon its founding in 1932, SNHU (affectionately pronounced “snoo”) was named The New Hampshire Accounting and Secretarial School, teaching 10 day and 35 evening students to type fast and add even faster. Over the last ninety years it’s grown just a wee bit (to nearly 150,000 students) but SNHU can trace its entrepreneurial roots directly back to its early days. Students could begin attending on any given Monday–now that’s flex-timing! — and the faculty were college-educated teachers with workplace experience, a rarity even then.
In the 1940’s, SNHU’s focus shifted to teaching servicemen typing, business English and business math and by the 1960’s, eight-week courses were being offered on military bases across New England. By the 1970s, enrollment had grown to over 1000 and the campus relocated from downtown Manchester to its current home, a 300-acre campus on the Merrimack River. In 1995 the university launched its first internet-based distance learning programs, making it one of the earliest entrants in that market. And boy, did they make good use of being the early adopter! By the late 90’s, enrollment had grown to over 8,000 students in 23 times zones, with 40% of online enrollment coming from the Armed Forces. When President Paul LeBlanc arrived at SNHU seventeen years ago, after serving as President of nearby Marlboro College, he provided the rocket fuel for the university’s growth, leveraging technology, exceptional marketing and student-focused online educational programs to supercharge enrollment. Under his leadership, SNHU has become the largest and most successful provider of online higher education in the country. From humble beginnings, a behemoth was born.
I was able to spend a few hours this week on SNHU’s campus in Manchester, NH, with President LeBlanc and NECHE Commissioner Greg Fowler, who serves as President of SNHU’s Global Campus, as well as Cara Procek, the chair of the Faculty Senate and Ryan Warner, a current student.
The first thing that struck me as we entered the SNHU grounds was that we were on a real campus, a beautiful expanse of green quads with impressive new buildings on every corner. Wait .. why would online students –even 150,000 of them– require bricks and mortar?
Of course, I forgot about the 3,000 undergraduate students and 1,000 graduate students that attend this traditional part of SNHU. But even that part is showing remarkable progress. By fall 2021, President LeBlanc believes they will be able to offer traditional students a flat $10,000/year tuition. This year, overachiever Ryan Warner will be earning both his BA and his Masters in Business in a mere four years, so he’ll miss that perk. From the faculty bench, Cara Procek contends that SHNU has been consistently focused on “customizing our curriculum for all kinds of learners, always trying to maintain the highest quality of education but also meeting our students’ real life needs.”
One last fun fact. Every year, SNHU holds in-person commencements for its graduates, and last year that required five different ceremonies, as thousands of students enrolled online came to campus for the very first time to visit their school, proudly accept their diplomas, and buy a boatload of swag from the bookstore. Talk about brand building!
Southern New Hampshire University was a great first stop on our NECHE road trip. And if you ever have the chance to hear President LeBlanc talk, don’t miss the opportunity to encounter a master disrupter and innovator. Until then, enjoy about 20 minutes of him here.