- Freshmen starting in-person programs at Southern New Hampshire University this fall will get a full-tuition scholarship and take their classes online while living on campus or commuting.
- The university announced the plan Wednesday, saying it expects to develop a range of online, hybrid and/or project-based learning pathways to be available starting in the fall of 2021.
- Southern New Hampshire also said it hopes to cut its annual campus-based tuition by 61% to $10,000 by 2021. The move follows other efforts by the private university to compete directly with public institutions.
The university framed its announcement around coronavirus's impact, saying in a press release that the "pandemic and economic recession have made it evident" that students need "a variety" of personalized and affordable degree pathways.
It suggested that other changes, such as moving campus-based and online programs to a common calendar and centralizing certain administrative services, could help lower costs. In recent years the university's online program has largely been separate from its campus-based offerings, growing to encompass more than 135,000 remote learners. Meanwhile, the university enrolls around 3,000 students on campus.
The anticipated changes in course formats, which Southern New Hampshire President Paul LeBlanc told Education Dive were underway before the pandemic but planned for 2023, would blur the boundaries of campus-based and online instruction.
"Seniors in high school, they don't have the three years to wait for us to roll out new alternatives," LeBlanc said, citing the pandemic's financial impact. "We've got to do this soon." The university had also been exploring ways to lower program costs.
Like many universities, Southern New Hampshire has not formally announced whether it will reopen campus for the fall of 2020. Several institutions have recently said they will have more details to share in the coming weeks.
Some have put forward plans. Purdue University President Mitch Daniels said in a statement Tuesday that the Indiana school plans to welcome students on campus "in typical numbers" this fall if the state allows schools to reopen.
California State University Fullerton was reported to have decided it would start the fall semester online and loosen restrictions as the pandemic wanes. However, the university's provost said in a statement Wednesday that a final decision has not been made, though it is asking faculty to be prepared to start teaching the semester virtually.
Other schools have announced free tuition for incoming students. Franciscan University of Steubenville, a Catholic college in Ohio, said it will cover the fall 2020 semester tuition costs remaining after scholarships and grants have been applied for new full-time undergraduates enrolled in campus-based programs, including transfer students. And Davidson College, in North Carolina, is letting students defer tuition for up to a year.
A Southern New Hampshire spokesperson told Education Dive in an email that the private university plans to offer students tuition at online rates — about $10,000 per year — if the campus remains closed in the fall.
While the freshmen will be a test case for the new model, the university's challenge is to develop programs that let them reduce campus-based tuition from $31,000 to $10,000. "We win or lose this bet on fall of '21," LeBlanc said.
Freshmen will take all general education courses next year to help them transfer if they decide they don't like the approach, he said.
Colleges widely have faced pressure to refund some or all spring tuition and lower fall tuition should they continue to offer online instruction to students who had signed up for campus-based programs. Freshmen entering Southern New Hampshire in the fall of 2020 will be responsible for room and board costs.
The news comes as Southern New Hampshire vies for community college students in pockets of the country. Most recently, it offered transfer students from Pennsylvania's 14 community colleges a 10% tuition discount and other allowances to complete an online bachelor's degree — a move analysts have said could hurt the state's public four-year schools, particularly those relying on transfer students.
Editor's note: This article has been updated with new information from California State University Fullerton.