House to consider whether online college with a ‘Lord of the Rings’ emphasis can grant degrees

  • A typical course at Signum University examines the literary links between the author of the Narnia fantasy series and the author of "Lord of the Rings." Signum University—Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 1/7/2020 2:41:30 PM
Modified: 1/7/2020 2:40:57 PM

An unusual bill that would allow an online college based in Nashua called Signum University to grant degrees, many for majors that are heavy on fantasy literature such as Lord of the Rings, will go before the N.H. House of Representatives this week.

The online-only school was founded eight years ago by a former professor, Corey Olsen, who had garnered a large online following from his podcast about J.R.R. Tolkien’s work. He based Signum University (the name is from the Latin word for a sign or a portent) in New Hampshire because he had moved to Hollis.

Signum offers masters-level classes on some very focused topics, with an emphasis on fantasy and science fiction as well as Medieval works, a few old European languages, and philology, which is the study of how language develops.

It offers a dozen classes about or related to Tolkien as well as courses in such things as literary antecedents to Harry Potter and literary successors to Sherlock Holmes, Beowulf, Germanic philology, and Medieval Scandinavian languages.

“Old Norse is selling like hotcakes – people love Old Norse,” Corey Olsen told the Monitor last year. “I think it’s safe to say we are the only place where our German philology program is growing.”

Getting degree-granting approval from New Hampshire would allow the school to seek accreditation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. That would make its courses far more valuable since they could be used for academic credit at other schools and, just as importantly, let students get federal student loans.

Back in October, however, the House Education Committee recommended by a 10-8 vote that the full House reject the bill – not because they don’t like stories about hobbits but because “the applicant’s nonprofit status is inconsistent with the objection to accept federal student financial aid, especially if the applicant expands the program to offer undergraduate degrees in the future.”

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