- Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) plans to open a new operations support center in downtown Tucson, Arizona, to serve online students in western time zones who currently can access services only until 9 p.m., the university said in a press release this week.
- SNHU said it expects the new center to open in 2020 and to house additional student support staff, including in advising, admissions, student financial services and information technology. SNHU said it would first hire about 100 staff for the center, with plans to hire a total of 350 by 2021.
- Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild credited his city's "reputation for excellent customer service" as a reason for the university's location choice. SNHU President Paul LeBlanc said in a statement that the university would maintain a "deep commitment" to its home city of Manchester, New Hampshire.
Even in the past few months the competition in online education has intensified as colleges seek a hedge against falling on-campus enrollment and access to a line to working adult learners.
Analysts with Moody's Investors Service this week released a report noting that online-only college enrollment grew 38% from 2012 to 2017 and would likely increase further as colleges see the growing market as "a key enrollment strategy." The analysts note private universities, such as SNHU and Western Governors, have boosted their market share, in part by expanding their online offerings.
Meanwhile, the analysts predict public universities will maintain their market share, thanks to their lower tuition and access-oriented mission.
SNHU is already massive, boasting some 92,000 enrolled undergraduates in 2017, according to IPEDs data compiled by The Chronicle of Higher Education. Other so-called "mega-universities" include Arizona State University and Western Governors, which had about 95,390 and 88,590 students, respectively, that year. (Officials from Western Governors told Education Dive last month that the university now enrolls upward of 100,000 students.)
What distinguishes SNHU from those two universities is the speed of its growth. In 2012, SNHU, with about 11,900 students, tracked just above the median enrollment for four-year public universities and well-above that of four-year private colleges. Meanwhile Western Governors enrolled 34,270 and ASU 65,500 that year. Now the three are neck-and-neck. In their growth, SNHU and Western Governors have overtaken other players with large online enrollments like Grand Canyon University and Liberty University, according to The Chronicle's data.
The field looks to get even more crowded as colleges of all stripes look to expand online to plug enrollment declines or supplement their campus-based revenue — or just out of fear being left behind.
The State University of New York (SUNY), for example, this summer put out a request for information to help grow its online presence in the state and nationally. In early March, the University of Massachusetts System said it planned to launch a national online college for adult learners as a bulwark against a perceived "existential threat" to higher ed, particularly in New England. Likewise, the University of Missouri System is also looking to online education as it tries to expand enrollment.
Meanwhile, for-profit Bridgepoint Education, now called Zovio, added a tutoring platform and a coding boot camp within the space of about a month, and is considering acquiring an online program manager (OPM) as the company tries to transition into a tech-focused services company. Meanwhile, the OPM 2U recently announced plans to acquire boot camp provider Trilogy Education, nearly doubling its count of university partners.
Others are adding new capabilities. Western Governors, for example, launched a remedial education platform for students that want to pursue its programs. And Arizona State recently launched a joint venture to help it forge partnerships with employers who want to educate their workforce, similar to the one it has with Starbucks.