Skyrocketing online enrolment and revenue at SNHU

How SNHU increased online class enrolment by 259x and became a billion-dollar institution.

About Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU)

SNHU is a private, nonprofit university with an 85-year history of educating successful professionals. They’re one of the fastest-growing universities in the country, with over 85,000 students enrolled in more than 200 undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs, available online and at their main campus in Manchester, N.H.

The challenge

In 2010, SNHU had an online distance learning program with roughly 500 students.

Even though the program was a decade old, the university treated it like a side project and didn’t invest many resources into it. The online program also attracted different types of students. 

Compared to the typical 18–22 year-olds jetting off to college after high school graduation, the online learners were older adults raising families, working full-time, or serving in the military.

University president Paul LeBlanc had a hunch that the online learners were ‘hiring’ SNHU for a different reason than the full-time, in-person college students — but he wasn’t exactly sure what that could be and why.

Project information

Industry: Higher Education
Company Size: 10,000+ employees
Use Case: Cross-Functional Alignment

We realized that our physical campus was built for the needs of 18 and 19 and 20-year-olds who had a different job that they needed us to do for them. And that the job that our adult learners and online were asking us to do really required something different.

Paul LeBlanc, President of SNHU

Our approach.

SNHU hired The Re-Wired Group to better understand why students chose SNHU’s online classes and how to help them make progress. After conducting Jobs To Be Done Interviews with their students, Bob Moesta and the team uncovered five key jobs that students hired SNHU to do.

The second job — “Help me step it up” — was most applicable to the online student demographic. This group came to SNHU to level up their careers because of a looming milestone, layoff fears, or financial concerns. They cared less about a college program’s prestige or reputation and more about speed, convenience, and flexibility. 

Once they defined their online students’ JTBD, LeBlanc realized that SNHU didn’t have the best policies, structures, and processes to support them. So he brought together a group of 20 faculty members and administrators to redesign their entire admissions process. The process involved cross-functional alignment, and rallied everyone around one vision.

Now that they knew the job their online students wanted to accomplish, LeBlanc’s team could efficiently work together to spot and eliminate the obstacles preventing or slowing down their students’ success.

For example, they hired more admissions staff to process applications and financial aid packages faster, cutting this process down to just a few days instead of weeks or months. They also set up each new online student with a personal academic advisor to help keep them on track. Since online students often juggle more competing responsibilities than their on-campus counterparts, this additional support is critical. The advisors help spot and address any issues before they get out of hand and ensure students have everything they need to succeed. 

Lastly, SNHU also developed a test commercial for this particular Job. It ran for one month and featured imagery of a single parent dropping their kid off at school, studying during their lunch break, and starting a new role.

The ad was wildly successful, generating over 10,000 applications in one month when they typically got about 1,000 a year.

If you don’t get the broader strategy question down — what am I being asked to do — it doesn’t matter how good you are at your operations; you’re hitting the wrong target.

Paul LeBlanc, President of SNHU

The results

Online student enrolment increased from less than 500 to 130,000+ in just eight years.

Revenue has soared from $109 mill to $1.2 billion.

The online programs have an average NPS of 9.6/10 and an above-average graduation rate of about 50%.

Graduates earn an average of $51,000 within 12 months of graduation.

The impact.

In less than a decade, SNHU has grown from a little-known regional college to one of the largest universities in the United States. Their online program, once an afterthought, is now responsible for 97% of their overall enrolment. And they aim to educate more than 300,000 students by 2025.

You have to be very hard-nosed about the job people are asking you to do for them, and then really optimize for that. And that’s what I think distinguished our online program from lots of others.

Paul LeBlanc, President of SNHU

Next steps.

Consistent growth starts with understanding your customers. Let us help you change the game.