Illustration via Justin Metz/Fast Company

Over in Manchester, New Hampshire, mere steps from the Merrimack River, runs an operation that’s turned what was once a modest school into one of the world’s 50 most innovative companies. Founded in 1932 as the New Hampshire School of Accounting and Secretarial Science, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) has swiftly been evolving — now the largest online-degree provider in New England.

Not often do you hear institutions of higher learning referred to as “companies.” SNHU’s Center for Online and Continuing Education has helped push the university ahead, however, with 11,600 students enrolled in 180 graduate and undergraduate programs and specialties, according to SNHU. The school was the only university to make the list, being touted “for relentlessly reinventing higher education online and off.”

President Paul LeBlanc told Fast Company that by 2014, he hopes SNHU “will boast the country’s biggest online not-for-profit education system.” To achieve that, he hired Steve Hodownes as SNHU’s online CEO, who’s focused on turning the university’s operations into something similar to that of Zappos and Amazon, and treating students more like customers.

A new software system actually tracks factors that predict student success, whether it be the length of their average post on a class discussion board or how long it’s been since their last class. According to Fast Company, the software flags advisers if a student is slipping, and that type of quality control has brought the percentage of first-year undergraduate students who register for a second year up from 35 percent in 2008 to 69 percent today.

Ever receive those coupons that read, “We haven’t heard from you in a while?” SNHU sounds like they’re taking a similar approach, luring students in with the recognition most schools forget about.

“We want to create the business model that blows up our current business model,” LeBlanc told Fast Company, “because if we don’t, someone else will.” To do that, they plan on rolling out a new degree program this fall, focused partially on “free Creative Commons-licensed open educational resources that can be delivered on e-readers.”

Students will be able to receive online support not only from peers and faculty experts, but also from those living in their local communities. LeBlanc uses Stonyfield Farm as an example, saying, “You’re a line worker at Stonyfield Farm taking a math course trying to finish your college degree. We will work with Stonyfield to have someone in its accounting department do brown-bag-lunch tutoring.”

For those who still fear online education, now isn’t the time to lag behind, as others continue to evolve. Education entrepreneurs have admitted that those “who embrace technology and change are going to have an oversized advantage.” Most recently, Founder of Boston-based Matchbox Stephen Marcus said, “Second-tier schools are arming themselves with the best people and the best technology. They’re using technology to win.”

SNHU is the perfect example of that, and should be the leading example of how schools can bring their curriculum online. Recently, MIT and Harvard have been two of the only local institutions lauded for their efforts, largely because of edX. Despite the amazing possibilities that come with the online platform, there’s a downside no one’s talking about, as well, that separates the potential of MOOCs from degree-granting online programs.

If this amount of innovation is happening in Manchester, New Hampshire, shouldn’t more be happening right here in the Hub?