Norwich University aims to transform higher education through ISAs
Founded in 1819, Norwich University is the country’s oldest private military college in the nation, serving over 4,000 traditional, non-residential and adult online students. As the institution enters its third century this year, they continue to be driven by three key words provided by their trustees: Flexibility. Relevance. Affordability.
To meet this charge—and particularly the third point—the university set a ten-year goal to eliminate all upfront tuition so that students could attend NU simply on the basis of their motivation and smarts. This would be a major undertaking, particularly for a private school, but one that was critical to delivering their mission and consistent with their values.
Balancing affordability with the university’s financial stability, however, was a challenge. While NU had accumulated funds from their bicentennial campaign that could be used to start this endeavor, they struggled to find a way to make this plan work for the long run.
ISAs: The missing piece
“As a progressive school, Norwich is committed to creating a model that levels the playing field for boosting student access to education,” explains Fred Snow, Special Consultant to the President Provost, Norwich. “We had brainstormed various ways to finance our strategic plan to accomplish this, but it wasn’t until our CFO mentioned Income Share Agreements that we began to see how we could make this a reality.”
“Within three minutes of talking about ISAs with Vemo,” Snow adds, “we knew we had found the missing link that would make it all work.”
Not only would the fundamental nature of ISAs deliver the affordability NU sought, but it created school accountability, provided better signaling of price and value, and reduced financial risk to students by incorporating payment caps and minimum income thresholds protecting graduates in cases of unemployment or lower-paying jobs. “The fact that Vemo was highly student-centric in their approach was very reassuring to us,” says Snow.
After a number of meetings with university leaders and staff, Vemo and NU created a program that launched the university’s ambitious efforts. While the ultimate goal will be to transform the university’s business model and replace traditional tuition entirely, the Norwich ISA currently has three main objectives:
- Provide financial assistance to juniors, seniors, and fifth-year students who are struggling financially to complete their studies.
- Fill funding gaps left by retired programs, such as the Federal Perkins Loan program, and
- Provide tuition assistance for adult programs, particularly online curricula.
The income generated through payments will keep the program evergreen, which is in line with the university’s culture that focuses on investing in the future success of its students – and the success of its future students. “Paying it forward is alive and well at Norwich,” Snow adds.
Creating a model for small colleges everywhere
Feedback from students, university leaders, and alumni has been very favorable from the start and the ISA program has injected an amazing amount of energy into the university’s endeavors to realize its strategic vision. To date, the program has already started to help boost retention, reduce institutional aid, and lower NU’s discount rate.
Just as important to the leadership team at Norwich, the ISA program is positioning the university at the head of a fundamental shift of higher education—one where the ability to pay for college up front is replaced by the ISA model of tuition.
“We want Norwich to be an example of how to transform higher education,” says Snow. “If we do our job right, we will be among the first colleges leading the way.”