Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) had been a struggling, 2,000-students school but today, using a student-as-customer model has managed to have over 34,000 enrolled students in its online programs. The University offers more than 180 programs in total, ranging from Social Media and Health Informatics bachelors’ degrees, to Robotics and Artificial Intelligence graduate degrees.
Six years back, SNHU was facing what seemed to be an inevitable downward spiral crash, student enrollment was disappointing, its status nearly nonexistent and its financial situation precarious. The change-or-fail conundrum was met head-on by Paul LeBlanc. The SNHU President decided to go with a technology-based model in which the university would offer flexible degrees through its online division with competitive tuition fees and a somewhat controversial student-as-customer approach.
LeBlanc’s university-as-business vision succeeded. The focus shifted from campus learning to e-learning that provides satisfactory customer experience for students and the much-needed flexibility — especially for adult students with full-time jobs and families.
SNHU’s rebirth gives hope that there’s a solution to the issues of poor enrollment and shrunk revenue in higher education. It shows with tangible results and irrefutable data that higher education can be a sustainable model that offers quality education at affordable prices, giving more struggling students a shot for better career prospects.
The new education model ushered in by SNHU is flexible and intuitive, giving the student-customer control over their learning and so far, it seems to be working. Many have criticized LeBlanc’s model, which considers professors more of adjuncts that facilitate learning rather than making it happen. In order for the university to cut down costs, it also had to offer standardized programs, another aspect of his model that has been heavily criticized.
For comparison purposes, an online SNHU student will need about $36,00o-38,0o0 for an undergraduate degree, whereas a campus student elsewhere might end up with a six-digit debt by the time she’s awarded her bachelor’s degree. SNHU invested in technology and innovative learning and won the bet, whether schools adopt a similar model, remains to be seen.
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