Other schools haven't yet adopted SNHU's model, but it's being watched closely. Meanwhile, a number of private colleges are promoting other affordable options, in addition to boosting financial aid. Neighboring Daniel Webster College in Nashua hopes to attract recent high school graduates who are willing to commute by offering them tuition at nearly half price. Some institutions are creating partnerships with community colleges to smooth the transfer of credits. Others are making it easier to earn a bachelor's degree in three years, saving students 25 percent. And a handful have announced that for students who meet certain criteria, tuition for 2009-10 will equal the cost of nearby public colleges.
"We are entering a period of unmatched innovation," says David Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.
The Pennsylvania State Board of Education recently offered ideas for reining in costs, including the possibility of a no-frills public-college alternative. Pennsylvania's public-education price tag is the sixth-highest in the US, according to a state report. And the level of graduates' debt ranked sixth as well, averaging nearly $24,000.