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Bubble U.: High Point University

What happens when you run a college like a growth business? North Carolina’s High Point University is finding out
Nido Qubein in his presidential suite
Nido Qubein in his presidential suitePhotograph by Mark Mahaney

As our little electric train pulls away from the admissions building, it’s already clear that High Point University looks like no campus any of us has ever seen. Piped-in classical music drifts across freshly planted flower beds as a student guide, steering a golf-cart-style “engine,” tows our group of six parents and teens past statues of Aristotle, Galileo, and Jefferson. She parks in front of the Plato S. Wilson School of Commerce, and we clamber out to tour the building. Opened in 2009, it’s outfitted with marble floors, a full-size replica of a financial trading floor, and a classroom with row upon row of computer-assisted design consoles. The kids’ eyes pop as the tour continues, with visits to a first-run movie theater, a steakhouse, and dorms with plasma-screen TVs and outdoor hot tubs.

Nothing like this existed here seven years ago, when Nido Qubein, a motivational speaker and multimillionaire, became president of what was then a sleepy little Methodist college. It was Qubein who launched the effort to transform the 88-year-old school into a nationally recognized institution. Some $700 million has already been spent to refurbish and expand the campus. Enrollment is up 50 percent, to 3,700, even as tuition and room and board have soared 60 percent, to $37,800 annually. Students’ average SAT scores have ticked up almost 10 percent.