Online Learning

Southern New Hampshire U, LRNG Merge to Focus on Community-Based Education

Model being piloted in Chicago and Birmingham, AL.

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), which in a few short years has transformed itself into an online learning powerhouse, is merging with LRNG, a nonprofit organization focused on workforce and education needs of urban communities. 

The goal of the merged organization is to address workforce needs and increase access to learning pathways for low-income students (middle school-aged students all the way through working adults) at little to no cost.

Leveraging technology and "Amazon-like" customer service, SNHU has grown to serve more than 100,000 students worldwide, offering more than 200 accredited undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs. Chicago-based LRNG was launched in 2015 with an initial $25 million investment by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. It offers students learning "playlists" to develop skills and earn credentials, such as coding or career readiness courses. Young people use it to earn digital badges that can open up opportunities for micro-scholarships or internships. 

SNHU and LRNG said they would work together with cities, employers and community-based partners to identify workforce and educational needs and build digital badges, learning playlists or entire degree programs depending on what skills are needed in each city.

For instance, students could access LRNG's learning playlists to develop skills and earn credentials or they could attend SNHU's full competency-based degree programs to earn an associate or bachelor's degree to fit a specific employer and workforce need in their area. SNHU and LRNG are exploring this model in Birmingham, AL, and Chicago, with plans to expand to other cities.

In a statement, Randall Woodfin, Birmingham’s mayor, spoke about the issues the merged organization is addressing. "Over the next 10 years, Birmingham will continue to see an increase in careers in IT, advanced manufacturing and healthcare," he said. "This solution bridges educators, employers and community partners to create meaningful pathways to develop the skills that will enable Birmingham residents to access quality jobs. This partnership has the potential to transform lives and fuel economic growth throughout our entire community." 

Connie Yowell, executive vice president and CEO of LRNG, added that to establish meaningful pathways to the middle class, the educational community must build seamless connections between learning and work. "Joining forces with SNHU is an extraordinary effort to do just that and make a difference in the lives of our learners and their communities," she said in a statement. 

LRNG described itself as becoming the "community impact arm of SNHU," working with local government, employers, the public library systems and community colleges to help close workforce gaps. Major national employers such as Amazon Web Services and Unity Technologies are joining in the effort, the organization said.

In April 2018, SNHU also received a $1 million grant from Google.org to explore soft skills assessments for people aged 16-24 who are not enrolled in school and are either underemployed or unemployed. The goal is for SNHU to build and deploy an assessment platform designed to map in-demand soft skills for 2,000 youth and young adults in high-need areas by 2020.

About the Author

David Raths is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer focused on information technology. He writes regularly for several IT publications, including Healthcare Informatics and Government Technology.

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