The Chronicle for Higher Education, sort of the Wall Street Journal of the college-and-university industry, has a long look at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester that calls it a ‘mega-university’ whose push into online education is indicative of the future of higher education:

Over the past decade. During that time, enrollment has gone from 8,600 degree-seeking students in 2008 to more than 122,000 today. The president since 2003, Paul LeBlanc, will tell you that it’s just getting started. The plan is for the university to nearly triple its enrollment over the next five years. As audacious as that sounds — by one analyst’s estimate, it means Southern New Hampshire would have to enroll one out of every two new online students in the United States over the next five years  — LeBlanc believes it might take only three years to hit that mark.

To get there, he has laid out an aggressive agenda: More short courses that appeal to employers. Low-cost, competency-based degree programs to serve tens of thousands of refugees overseas, plus thousands more underemployed young people in the United States. Artificial intelligence and chatbots handling routine student interactions. A degree program at a price of $100 a month? That’s under exploration, too.

But the article notes some disturbing trends: Graduation rates are way down, which perhaps isn’t surprising with an emphasis on online education, but more worrisome is that student loan default rates have risen are are now above the national average.

It also notes that traditional small colleges of the sort that SNHU used to be (it was New hampshrie College until the late 1990’s) might beleft in the dirt if technology allows higher education to consolidate the way so many other industries have consolidated.

The article is here, but is only available to subscribers – unless you get to it through the Chronicle’s twitter feed (@chronicle); they you can click and read the whole thing.

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