The Greater Manchester Chamber (GMC) has named Dr. Paul J. LeBlanc, president and CEO of Southern NH University (SNHU) as its next Citizen of the Year. LeBlanc will be honored on April 11 at the Chamber’s Citizen of the Year Celebration, taking place at 5 p.m. at the DoubleTree by Hilton Manchester Downtown.
Under LeBlanc’s leadership, SNHU has grown from 2,800 students to over 175,000 learners and became the largest nonprofit provider of online higher education in the country. LeBlanc immigrated to the United States as a child and immediately understood the importance of education and how it can change the trajectory of one’s life. He was the first person in his extended family to attend college and is a graduate of Framingham State University (BA), Boston College (MA) and the University of Massachusetts (PhD). From 1993 to 1996 he directed a technology startup for Houghton Mifflin Publishing Company, was president of Marlboro College in Vermont from 1996 to 2003 and became president of SNHU in 2003.
Since becoming president of SNHU 20 years ago, LeBlanc has shaped the school from a small business college into a global institution. Today, SNHU employs more than 5,000 individuals in the region.
Under LeBlanc, SNHU created its competency-based, workforce applicable College for America (CFA) program. “I have seen firsthand how this program has provided opportunities for education, professional development, and career advancement,” says Lisa Guertin, former president of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in NH, who worked closely with LeBlanc to establish a unique collaboration over a decade ago to offer no-cost college degrees to NH-based Anthem Associates through CFA.
Since 2017 SNHU’s Global Education Movement has offered low-cost degrees to refugees and vulnerable learners around the world. With more than 800 current students in this program and 5,000 alumni across five countries, SNHU has helped displaced learners gain academic skills. In 2017, SNHU founded the Center for New Americans in partnership with YWCA NH to serve the needs of the New American community in Manchester, providing programming for newly resettled youth and their families. For adults, the Center seeks to advance continuing education for New Americans as well as create pathways for employment.
“Paul has changed hundreds of thousands of lives all over the world by giving so many the tools to make a better life, the daring to dream a better future, and the hope and focus to realize their success,” says Howard Brodsky, chairman, co-founder and co-CEO, CCA Global Partners. “What is most amazing about his work at SNHU is that he has grown the university in size, scope, and quality with laser focus on serving the populations that are most at need, and with the least opportunities. Many of the individuals impacted by Paul and SNHU are anchored right here in the greater Manchester area,” added Brodsky.
During the pandemic, LeBlanc guided the designation of the SNHU facilities as a remote hospital auxiliary site for overflow COVID-19 patients, and then as a vaccination site. With a focus on food insecurity and cooperation with the Manchester School District, Granite United Way and Granite YMCA, SNHU provided more than 215,000 meals to young people and families in need throughout the community.
“Paul LeBlanc has been an unwavering advocate for the residents of this community and used his impeccable leadership at Southern New Hampshire University to not only lift up his students, but to lift up our entire community,” says Joyce Craig, mayor of Manchester. “Paul’s presidency has helped shape our city into what it is today.”
SNHU has updated technology labs in schools across the city, built two soccer mini pitches in underserved neighborhoods, and partnered with the city to offer free college tuition to Manchester students who, without assistance, would otherwise not have been able to attend school due to the hardships imposed by COVID-19. LeBlanc and his team are also coalition partners for the Build Back Better Regional Challenge and will help administer an $8,000,000 program focused on equitable workforce development here in Manchester, ensuring that our existing workers will benefit as our economy grows.
LeBlanc’s nomination for Citizen of the Year was championed by Peter Ramsey, president and CEO of The Palace Theatres and past Citizen of the Year. In his nomination, Ramsey says that “Under Dr. LeBlanc’s leadership, the substantial growth of SNHU has had significant, positive impact on Manchester and the region. In addition to the ongoing expansion and modernization of its campus in North Manchester, the college’s other interests in the Millyard are exceptionally maintained and provide a welcome sight for residents and guests alike as they drive within or enter our city.”
During the second year of his tenure, SNHU created The Chandler Center, with a fundamental purpose to engage and empower on-campus students to be active citizens through the creation and sustaining of service and leadership opportunities. Additionally, every year, hundreds of SNHU students and employees, who are provided paid time off to volunteer for local non-profit organizations, do so by giving their energy to improve the lives of those in Greater Manchester.
LeBlanc’s impact hasn’t gone unnoticed over the years. SNHU was #12 on Fast Company’s “World’s Fifty Most Innovative Companies,” list. Forbes magazine has listed him as one of its 15 “Classroom Revolutionaries,” and one of the “most influential people in higher education.” Washington Monthly named him one of America’s ten most innovative university presidents. In 2018 Paul won the prestigious TIAA Institute Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence and Higher Education, joining some of the most respected university and college presidents in American higher education. LeBlanc has helped to make SNHU an inclusive place to work, recognized by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for Women” in the U.S. in 2022, and named a “Great College to Work For” for 15 consecutive years as part of the Great Colleges program.