Southern New Hampshire University continues to reinvent itself. At the beginning of the decade it had 2,000 students and shaky finances. Today, it serves more than 80,000 students online and 3,000 on campus, making it one of the country's fastest-growing universities.
This week it continues that expansion with the announcement of a major infrastructure project in Manchester.
All Things Considered host Peter Biello spoke with SNHU President Paul J. LeBlanc about the university's growth and recent events.
I want to start by asking about something that happened recently - and that is the fire that broke out in the dormitory over the weekend. What's the status?
The most important thing is everybody was out of the dorm and safe. We spent Sunday rallying around getting them made whole. So that included everything from the basics, which is salvaging what we could from their rooms, going to Bed, Bath & Beyond and expending $6,000 on sheets, and comforters, etc., making sure that the electronics that were salvaged either worked or could be replaced immediately. And I'll tell you, students live on their laptops, and phones, and devices. And, of course, getting them places to stay. ... (SNHU does have room for every student affected on campus; it is working that out now.) We're trying to make this as seamless and easy as possible for students. It's still terribly disruptive for students, and for some students, pretty emotional. Where the damage is most severe, there are some students who lost everything.
I hear you're building a parking garage. Where will it be and what's the need for it?
It will be adjacent to our current mill location, between 33 and 55 South Commercial. It will be between the Mill building and the Fisher Cats Stadium. We've got approval to build a 1,700 spot garage and it's much needed, because parking has been, as everyone locally knows, an ongoing problem in the mill complex.
Will this be open to the public?
It's primary use will be for us. Our employees will take up virtually everyone of the 1,700 spots. But evenings, weekends, during games, during events at the SNHU Arena, when we're not using it for regular work hours we will work out a system for making it available.
And along with the parking garage, the school is also entering into long term leases at two commercial properties in the millyard. What will those buildings be used for?
Currently we have our very large online division, the College of Online and Continuing Education. We have it in the mill complex and it will continue to be that and we will continue to increase staff as we continue to grow.
About how many jobs will be added?
We don't have an exact number. We're probably looking, at our current pace of hiring, another 200 to 300 jobs over the course of the next three years.
Finally, a new 80,000 square foot engineering building is coming to Hooksett. Does that mean the school is also expanding its on-campus student body?
We're not, actually. We feel really good about staying at about 3,000 students on the main campus. This actually signifies more of a shift toward STEM fields and also movement toward health care professions. And this is a reflection of where the jobs are, where the student interest is, what the needs of our workforce is today.
Where's that money coming from? Will it be covered by student tuition?
No. We actually have had no tuition increase. We're very cognizant of the struggles of families and students to pay for their education. If anything, we're trying to find new models which will actually lower tuition. This comes from a combination of our own reserves. We do do bonding and borrowing. So for the new engineering building, there will be borrowing for that building. But, we're very comfortable where our debt ratios are vis-a-vis the size of the university. So, no additional burden for students.