Liz Francis has struggled with epileptic seizures since high school. Medication helped, but over time became less effective. Two years ago, she had a grand mal seizure while driving and crashed her car. When she came to, all her memories of the previous six years – from after her 19th birthday to the age of 26, and including everything she learned in college – had vanished.
Last year, Francis had a right temporal lobectomy that removed a fist-sized piece of her brain to stop the seizures. Though her body and mind are still recovering, she couldn’t wait to start college again.
"I was so tired of being stuck at home. For a year and a half I really didn’t do anything but go to the doctor and go to the grocery store," she said. "Yes, I’ve had a hell of a hard time with brain surgery and my physical being, but I’ve come out on top."
Now 27, Francis is earning her associate degree through the new SNHU Advantage Program, designed for students seeking lower-cost tuition or an alternative to the traditional college experience.
It’s different this time around. Sometimes she forgets assignments and even whole conversations. School used to be "a breeze"; now she struggles in her basic math course. She sometimes gets frustrated and wonders if she jumped in too soon. But in the Advantage program, she’s also getting the support she needs.
"That’s been the wonderful thing about Southern New Hampshire University – everyone is so willing to help," she said. "Everyone I’ve encountered – Hyla (Jaffe) in disability services, financial aid, my professors – they’re willing to bend over backwards to help you succeed, and I think that’s amazing."
SNHU offers more academic programs and delivery options than ever to help people earn their degrees and thus access the opportunities available to those with higher education:
- Increased financial aid
- Alumni Assistance Program
- SNHU Advantage Program
- SNHU in the High School
- Three-year programs
- Online programs
"If you look at the list of programs that we offer, what you recognize is that the old, traditional, standard eight-semester, four-year model has been surpassed by a broad range of options for students. It’s not your grandfather’s higher education anymore," SNHU President Paul LeBlanc said.
"The key is not only to give people options for how they’re going to get their education, but to have those options provide pricing flexibility. That interweaving of innovation around delivery and innovation around access go hand in hand."
Before last year, many parents asked about programs, job prospects, campus life and finding the "right fit"; now they’re also asking how they will be able to afford tuition, said Steve Soba, director of SNHU’s Office of Admission.
"Last year’s economy was so tumultuous and had such an impact on people, through reality and perception
Among the university’s responses is an increase in grants and scholarships. Incoming freshmen with high school GPAs of 2.5 and higher will be eligible for up to $15,000 in grants and scholarships for the 2010-2011 school year.
The university also reached out to alumni and members of their families who lost their jobs when the economy tanked. They could take up to four graduate courses for half price, beginning in March, June or September, through the Alumni Assistance Program. Twenty people have enrolled.
Caryn Slosek ’08 was laid off from her staff accountant position at Levine Katz Nannis and Solomon PC. A B.S. in accounting alumna, she enrolled in graduate courses through the Alumni Assistance Program. She plans to earn her M.S. in accounting and take the CPA exam.
While coming up with the money for the class, even at half price, and for books was tough, Slosek believed in the end it would pay off.
"Having my M.S.A. will help me stand out from all the other candidates who just have their bachelor’s," she said.
While in high school, Billy Flynn planned to attend college full-time as a traditional undergraduate. But after his parents divorced, paying for tuition became a hurdle.
"My parents had no money, and I had no money," said the 18-year-old Nashua resident.
So Flynn instead enrolled in the new SNHU Advantage Program, which allows students between the ages of 18 and 22 to take core classes at the university’s centers in Nashua, Salem and Portsmouth for only $10,000 a year – a savings of about 60 percent.
Students can complete an associate degree and apply the credits toward a bachelor’s degree, which they can pursue at the main campus, at the centers, through SNHU Online, or even at a different college. The program offers extra attention from advisers and faculty, as well as tutoring and access to library resources, computer labs and study areas.
For some students, the program is an opportunity to strengthen study skills. For others, including Flynn, who graduated from high school with a 3.6 GPA, it offered an affordable alternative to a traditional college education.
The program has made national headlines on CBS News, in The Boston Globe and on National Public Radio. Flynn was interviewed by several news outlets and caught the attention of another university. He ended up receiving a generous scholarship to pursue a bachelor’s in engineering (which SNHU doesn’t offer), enabling him to realize a lifelong aspiration.
Kaileen Crane, a former high school dropout who already has plans for graduate school, found the Advantage program in Salem to be exactly what she wanted.
"Smaller class size, a little more guidance and, of course, the big pink elephant was the price, getting the same education, if not better," she said. "Campus life, to me, seems like a distraction."
Teens don’t even have to graduate high school to begin saving on college tuition. Through the SNHU in the High School Program, they can take SNHU courses in their high schools for only $75 a course – a savings of about 90 percent on tuition. Susan Jones’s daughter, Victoria, enrolled in one at Alvirne High School.
"She’s had two sisters going to college and she’s seen the cost incurred by that. She’s pretty frugal," Jones said. "She’s always looking for some way to save money. I think she’s looking at getting out (of college) without quite so much debt as her sisters have incurred."
Victoria, a senior, took SNHU’s Introduction to Information Technology, taught by her teacher at her school during her normal school day. The credits she earned count for both her high school and college transcripts.
"I loved the class," she said. "I think it’s a great opportunity, getting two things done at once – college credits and high school credits. It’s definitely worth it. The price was great. It will help put me a step ahead."
The growing list of high schools offering SNHU courses for credit includes Alvirne, Bedford, Nashua North and South, Manchester West and Central, Memorial and Pembroke Academy.
Students can take SNHU courses during their sophomore, junior and/or senior years. They save thousands on tuition and show that they can handle college-level course work.
"Our partnership with SNHU and the dual enrollment program has provided many of our students with a 'jump start' on their future," said John Rist, principal of Central High School in Manchester. "It’s a win-win and a no-brainer."
Politicians from Rhode Island to Tennessee have begun urging colleges to start offering three-year degree programs. SNHU is once again out ahead: The university launched its 3Year Honors Program in Business in 1995.
Unlike most three-year programs at other universities, students in SNHU’s business honors program don’t have to take night, weekend, overload or break courses. They earn their bachelor’s in six semesters and still have time for a job and to enjoy campus life, just like their four-year peers. Though they earn the same number of credits and the same degree, they follow an innovative, cohort-based course model that emphasizes integrated and applied learning.
They not only save 25 percent on tuition – graduates can spend the fourth year earning their master’s degrees or start their careers (and start making money). Instead of spending thousands on tuition in that fourth year, they could be earning up to $45,000, the average starting salary for business administration majors.
"I would challenge anyone to find a program that provides that kind of substantial decrease in cost across a whole bachelor’s degree," LeBlanc said. "In fact, it puts us in direct competition with many public institutions that are often perceived to be more affordable."
The university also is introducing new three-year plans for its justice studies and creative writing majors, which allow students to compress the same number of courses as the four-year programs into three years by taking online and summer courses.
It isn’t always about money. The traditional, full-time undergraduate day model simply doesn’t work for everyone. SNHU has a long history of reaching out to those nontraditional students.
For example, SNHU has been serving veterans since its founding in 1932. That service to veterans continued after Vietnam. Today, the university accommodates nontraditional students, including active-duty soldiers and working adults, through evening, weekend and online courses.
There are no typical days for SNHU Online student Tiffany Quint, who is on active duty with the U.S. Army in Iraq.
"It’s a 24-hour job, and we work whenever soldiers go out on convoys," said Quint, a 25-year-old staff sergeant from Dover, N.H., who is responsible for maintaining equipment used to counter improvised explosive devices.
Quint does her course work in the afternoon or even the middle of the night.
"There were definitely days when I didn’t know if I would be able to handle doing both workloads, and I knew which one I would end up giving up," she said. "If I made the time to take classes with the hectic schedule I’ve had, I am sure that I can do it anywhere."
Offerings such as SNHU Online continue the university’s long history of reaching out to students for whom college was not a guarantee, LeBlanc said.
"If you think about whom we serve, whether it’s a kid from an immigrant family in central Manchester, a working mom in a rural place where her only option is online, a soldier deployed in Iraq, or a busy businessperson who’s often on the road – for all of those students, traditional models of education had shortcomings," he added.
"In today’s world, institutions find ways to extend and provide education; it’s pretty inspirational and we shouldn’t lose sight of that."