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Historical image of the NH School of Accounting and Commerce

The History of SNHU

Founded in 1932, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) began as a two-room business school above a nondescript storefront in downtown Manchester, NH. Originally named the New Hampshire Accounting and Secretarial School, the tiny enterprise enrolled fewer than 10 day students and 35 evening students in bookkeeping, accounting, and secretarial courses. 

The school’s founder, Harry Alfred Benjamin “H.A.B.” Shapiro, started the program to teach bookkeepers the underlying theory behind the tasks they performed day in and day out. Shapiro believed passionately in the value of knowing the “why” of accounting and not just the “how.” 

Establishing a Flexible Format

When the school first opened its doors, it offered one-year courses that qualified graduates for entry-level positions as secretaries, bookkeepers, and junior accountants. Students with higher aspirations could take a second year. 

The program appealed to both traditional college-aged students and working adults. Students could begin coursework on any Monday of the year, in a day or night class, and would advance to a higher-level course only after mastering a subject. The flexible format was well received, because it opened up educational opportunities to students unable to attend traditional day classes. Students also appreciated learning from college-educated faculty with workplace experience, a rarity in higher education at the time.  

Expanding Access for Service Members

In 1941, after the United States entered World War II, the school shifted its focus to supporting the needs of service members. The first program for active-duty personnel taught military clerical skills to 25 servicemen stationed at the Manchester Air Base (now the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport). The servicemen took typing, business English, and business math courses in downtown Manchester during the day, resuming their military studies on base in the evenings. 

The school also began accepting disabled veterans in federal and state vocational training programs and participating in bond drives to raise money for the war effort. In the 1960s, the school expanded educational opportunity to military personnel by offering innovative 8-week courses on military bases across New England and Puerto Rico. 

A Period of Growth and Change

Growth was minimal but meaningful into the early 1960s, until the college earned its accreditation and degree-granting authority under its new name: New Hampshire College of Accounting and Commerce. The name was later shortened to New Hampshire College, after the school became a nonprofit institution. 

Then, in just eight years, from 1961 to 1969, enrollment catapulted from 96 day students to 920. 

The college rented as much space as possible in its downtown Manchester location, but by 1971 it had outgrown the space. That year, to accommodate the spike in the student population, New Hampshire College resettled in its current location, a 300-acre campus on Manchester’s Merrimack River. 

On Campus, Online, On a Roll

At its new campus location, New Hampshire College continued to expand its academic offerings throughout the 1980s and 1990s, adding bachelor’s and master’s programs to meet emerging workforce needs. 

The mid-1990s saw a period of rapid growth. In 1995, New Hampshire College launched its Internet-based distance learning program (now known as “SNHU Online”). In 1997, the institution unveiled a one-of-a-kind three-year bachelor’s degree in business administration. In 1998, it launched its first doctoral program. 

The distance learning program featured many benefits of modern online education, including 24-hour access to course materials and use of online bulletin boards for discussion. The program expanded rapidly, with 8,000 enrollments in 23 time zones within just six years. By 2002, members of the U.S. Armed Forces made up 40% of online enrollees. 

In the midst of it all, a wave of campus expansion began. The college added several facilities to the community, including academic centers, office space, and residence halls. The campus expansion and program development led to a significant moment in the institution’s history when New Hampshire College became Southern New Hampshire University in 2001. By then, the school was offering a broad range of academic disciplines and degree programs, as well as the services and facilities needed to support a diverse student and alumni population. 

In 2013, SNHU expanded access to higher education with the launch of College for America (CfA). Made possible with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Lumina Foundation, CfA leveraged SNHU partnerships to introduce competency-based education (CBE) to students for whom education is not a guarantee.  

Our CBE pathways were further expanded with the launch of the Global Education Movement (GEM) in 2017. GEM became the first large-scale online learning initiative for refugees, partnering with in-country organizations to deliver high-quality, low-cost education tailored to meet the needs of displaced learners. 

Campus construction continued over the years, with the campus expanding from a handful of buildings in 1971 to more than 40. Today, with over 180,000 students and 250 programs, available online and on campus, SNHU is widely recognized as one of the nation’s most innovative organizations and fastest-growing universities.