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40 Influential Leaders - Paul LeBlanc

Published Thursday Feb 15, 2024

Author Matthew J. Mowry

40 Influential Leaders - Paul LeBlanc

Paul LeBlanc
President of Southern NH University

It is a simple equation: Time + Money = Access to Higher Education. The problem is low-income people have access to neither. “For low-income people time is not a luxury,” says Paul LeBlanc, president of Southern NH University (SNHU), which is an innovator in online higher education. “For many, they work in jobs where they don’t know what the work schedule will be for next week. It’s hard for them to commit” to a traditional college class schedule.

LeBlanc, author of “Students First: Equity, Access, and Opportunity in Higher Education,” says, “When I wrote Students First in 2021, the power of time really dawned on me. If you are low-income in America it takes longer to do things,” he says, such as needing to visit a laundromat to do laundry. That means higher education not only needs to be affordable, but it also needs to be on students’ schedules.

SNHU offers 200 degree programs from certificates to doctoral degrees and has been nationally for recognized for its online programs. With more jobs requiring college degrees, these programs open doors for students.

Artificial intelligence is also changing expectations around higher education, LeBlanc says. “Because of AI, the question is no longer what you know. Now, when everything you need to know is in this device in your hand and people get AI assistance, the question becomes what can you do with what you know. That’s a skills-based question,” he says.

SNHU is seeking to take a leading role in how to use artificial intelligence in higher education, hiring George Siemens, a prominent AI researcher, to examine how to deploy AI in its operations, from curriculum development to marketing. “We have launched a new team to reinvent the way we work,” LeBlanc says.

SNHU’s educational approach has allowed it to grow to the largest university in the country, boasting 224,000 students. LeBlanc says SNHU has achieved a quality education on a large scale by providing each student with an academic advisor who is with them their entire academic journey. “I think of them as life coaches,” LeBlanc says. “You can’t transform a life if you’re not in a relationship with that person.” 

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