Southern New Hampshire University | 2018

Southern New Hampshire University

A path for refugees and displaced people to access higher education and employment

Only 3 percent of the world’s 70 million displaced people have access to higher education. SNHU’s innovative model is providing self-paced, and affordable higher education to marginalized learners across the globe.

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Jon Mercer



There are currently more than 70 million people displaced worldwide, a number that has continued to increase in recent years — resulting in dramatic life upheavals that destroy health, security, and the potential to get an education, pursue a career or earn a livelihood. Refugees have few educational opportunities, and their ability to work is often restricted, which allows for very few pathways to economic mobility. An Oxford Refugee Studies Center study of Ugandan refugee populations recently found that each additional year of primary and secondary education corresponded with average income increases of 3.3%. In comparison, each additional year of tertiary education results in an increase of  27%, yet only 3% of refugees have access to higher education.

Big Idea

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), a fully-accredited nonprofit institution with over 140,000 on-campus and online students has developed a fully-accredited, competency-based learning model that is bringing higher education to refugees in camps and urban areas around the world. Through the Global Education Movement (GEM), refugees and displaced communities have the opportunity to pursue a US-accredited Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree at no cost to learners. With initial seed funding from Audacious over the past two years, SNHU has successfully piloted the program in Lebanon, South Africa, Kenya, Malawi, and continued to grow in Rwanda. They now seek to scale their solution to 15 countries over the next five years, lowering the cost of the degree and enabling over 16,000 refugees across 23 sites to improve their futures.


GEM employs a blended-learning model that partners self-paced digital learning with on-site instructors, psychosocial support, and internships deployed through vetted local partners. This combination of a US-accredited qualification and locally relevant labor market skills gives students an education that can flex to the challenges of refugee lives. SNHU has been able to lower the cost of a degree, plowing back these resources into providing students with the tech, learning, and career resources they need to succeed in their studies and to improve their earning potential and employability.      

Why will this succeed?

Since 2018, SNHU's GEM program has graduated over 491 B.A. and over 941 A.A. degrees. Independent evaluations show that GEM students outperform college/university students in their home countries from a match control group at statistically significant levels. They also earn more than double the income of their peers and 90% find employment within six months of graduation. In 2017, SNHU established a GEM Hub in Rwanda which continues to reduce costs, making the degree affordable. SNHU works with respected local partners and employers to infuse degree programs with competencies designed for the labor market needs of the countries where learners will remain in the short or long-term while ensuring their skills are transferable across geographies.

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