Looking at media rankings of companies–“Most Innovative,” “Fastest-Growing,” or other roundups of various firms–we aren’t often surprised. Take the magazine Fast Company. For this month’s issue, they’ve listed “The World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies.” Dominating the Top 4 are the perennial occupants of the corporate Cool Kids’ Table: Apple, Facebook, Google, and Amazon.
Normally, we’d let a list like this slide by without comment. But then, there’s company #12: Southern New Hampshire University.
Now that’s interesting. After all, it’s not often we’ve seen a non-profit educational institution mentioned in (almost) the same breath as some of high-tech’s corporate juggernauts.
Apparently, Fast Company singled-out non-profit SNHU because of President Paul LeBlanc’s aggressive strategy to grow the school’s online degree program. Reporter Anya Kamenetz writes:
“SNHU was a modest school when LeBlanc joined as president in 2003, recognized for its culinary arts, business, and justice programs. Its online program was, as LeBlanc puts it, “a sleepy operation on a nondescript corner of the main campus. I thought it was squandering an opportunity.”
That little operation has turned into SNHU’s Center for Online and Continuing Education (COCE), the largest online-degree provider in New England. Its 10,600 students are enrolled in 120 graduate and undergraduate programs and specialties, everything from a sustainability-focused MBA to a creative-writing BA. Fifty more programs will be launched this year, and the COCE recently tested TV ads in national markets such as Raleigh, North Carolina; Milwaukee; and Oklahoma City. LeBlanc hopes that by 2014 SNHU will boast the country’s biggest online not-for-profit education system.”
And thanks to the heavy fire for-profit online degree programs are taking in Congress and the media, Kamenetz notes SNHU has plenty of room to expand into the realm of digital degrees. The university’s also worked on more aggressive customer service for students. And writes the changes are starting to pay off:
“COCE’s booming revenue, which is up to $74 million annually from $10 million…[since] 2007, helps subsidize the main campus. Like most not-for-profit colleges, SNHU runs at a loss, but doesn’t need to impose the double-digit annual tuition increases that are standard elsewhere.”
Despite the school’s overall success, Kamenetz writes that LeBlanc is pushing for a large-scale overhaul of SNHU’s business model. One example is a new degree program set to debut in the fall:
“Based in part on free Creative Commons-licensed open educational resources that can be delivered on e-readers, the program will be self-paced and will give students access to multiple kinds of support: peers online, faculty experts, and people from their local communities…LeBlanc envisions making the learning materials available for free, much like MIT’s Open Courseware; students would pay only for faculty time if they need it and for competency-based assessments, including portfolio reviews, in order to get course credit.”