MANCHESTER — Southern New Hampshire University, known for being on the cutting edge of collegiate learning, plans to slash tuition for incoming freshmen as it drastically revamps how it conducts on-campus learning beginning in the fall.
As part of the changes, tuition will be cut 61%, from $31,000 to $10,000 starting in the 2021-2022 academic year.
Under the plan, incoming freshmen and transfer students with freshman standing will receive full tuition scholarships for the first year. The scholarships, which will be available to 1,050 on a first-come, first-served basis, won’t include the cost of room and board.
With the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn, the university accelerated a three-year plan to develop new campus-based models to reduce tuition, according to an announcement Wednesday.
SNHU President Paul LeBlanc said the university knew traditional college education was becoming “increasingly out of reach for a majority of Americans” before the pandemic hit.
“We have run all sorts of pilots and new pathways, so we’ve learned a lot and now it’s really on us to kind of distill all that learning and see if we can offer students an interesting range of more affordable options,” he said in an interview with the Union Leader.
Colleges and universities across the country have scrambled to come up with plans to deal with the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, said Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges & Universities.
“Many institutions are looking at freezing tuition, others are looking at cutting it or allowing students to defer payment for a year on tuition costs for the upcoming academic year,” she said. “Others are going ahead and saying, ‘We need to continue with our planned increase in tuition because we know that we’ll have fewer tuition dollars as a result of the decline in enrollment.’”
Most institutions are looking at long-term solutions for costs associated with higher education, she said. She applauded SNHU’s plan.
“I think that is a model for other institutions as we look at the economic recession and the fact that over the last month 22 million people have filed for unemployment and education will be more critical than ever,” she said. “We have to look at the ways that we can safeguard access to excellence in higher education for those who are already the most underserved.”
Under the SNHU plan, for the first year incoming freshmen will take their courses online with learning support while living on campus and participating in all campus clubs, activities, athletics and other experiences.
“They get this kind of hybrid for the first year, while we figure out what the new models look like,” LeBlanc said. “This is not what they were signing up for when they applied to us, so recognizing that, we’re covering the full cost of the first year for them, so it is risk-free.”
After the first year, their tuition will rise to $10,000 a year under a learning model that will be developed over the next 18 months.
Among the models could be all courses online, all courses online with face-to-face support from faculty, and a project-based model with learning coaches and other academic support, according to the university.
The new tuition model will be comparable to its online programs. The university will refund deposits to students not interested in the change.
LeBlanc said high school juniors and seniors need the change now.
“They don’t have three years,” LeBlanc said. “We think we are going to see enormous financial distress, and we need to come up with new models. ”
LeBlanc wouldn’t go as far as to say there will be no classrooms or lectures in the future.
“It won’t be that the campus will be different, but how we use the campus will be different,” he said.
The university has a contractual agreement with returning students to finish their programs. The tuition will stay the same for those students, but they will have a chance to apply for hardships, LeBlanc said.
Wednesday morning’s announcement was positively received.
“In just two hours, we had more deposits come in than we had all of last week and a lot of tearful expressions of gratitude,” LeBlanc said. “It reaffirmed what we thought — that people are hurting right now and really fearful about their ability to send their children to college.”
Amelia Manning, SNHU’s chief operating officer, said the new tuition rate makes SNHU more affordable than many public colleges and “almost all private institutions.”
“At a time when the average tuition at a private institution is $36,000, we have to remind ourselves that higher education is still our most powerful tool for social mobility, but only if it can again be within financial reach of those who need it most,” she said in a statement.
Students will be able to use financial aid for room and board. The university hopes to address the total cost of room and board through possible changes in term structure and using “earn while you learn” models.
Campus housing costs between $9,000 and $11,000, according to the university’s website.
“I often say that SNHU is in the business of hope,” LeBlanc said in a statement. “Taking these bold actions now will allow us to keep that hope and the American Dream alive for the next generation of learners. They’re counting on us.”