Redesigning a university: a discussion with president Paul LeBlanc

How can we redesign a university?

Yesterday the Future Trends Forum met with an extraordinary campus president to learn from his experience. We hosted Paul LeBlanc, head of Southern New Hampshire University, and had a wide-ranging, rich, and speedy conversation. The audience was deeply engaged.


Participants generated a huge amount of comments and questions, and Paul answered as many of them as we could handle in one hour. Here are the ones we couldn’t get to.  I think they offer a fascinating series of prompts and approaches to SNHU and the topic in general.

(They appear in chronological order, so you can track them with the video below. I edited them very lightly to anonymize questioners, to fix typos, and for clarity.)

When you delegate responsibility (and authority), how do you think about accounting for mistakes/mitigate risk, which with people’s education and therefore lives could be quite dramatic?

Potential of academic innovation within shared governance model?

What lessons can you take from instructional innovation that you can transfer to organizational innovation?

Follow up – what about the student experience. Are you going as far as a lifelong subscription model? Or some variant of an iterative engagement, where the endpoint isn’t a degree per se?

What plans are there for [competency based education, or] CBE to be adopted more widely at SNHU? What can we do proactively to encourage the new Secretary of Education and his staff to allow schools to pilot CBE pathways?

For traditional institutions who are trying to leverage what they see as a new opportunity in the online learning sphere, how do we help them understand the importance of thoughtfully designed online learning (vs. remote learning) from a systemic standpoint?

Has Covid shown that we’ve hit “Peak Head” (cognitive work) and need more Hand (making and manual work) and Heart (health and care work). Need rebalancing of HE curriculum?

We (or our legacy processes) seem to be our own worst enemy. How do we both recognize the value of past processes, and yet move past cognitive lock-in to modernize ourselves?

How many students are on those committees?

Related to creating Community of Practice groups to “stop changes being top-down”, what questions did you ask to assess credibility and passion?

The growth of SNHU into a leader in online education has been amazing! What is SNHU doing to establish itself within the local community and reach out to local students including the refugee community?

There is, perhaps, no greater hierarchy in academia than tenure. What do you think will be the effects on universities as tenure continues to erode?

Do you feel a strong CBE learning environment carries different technology needs than a more traditional format would (CBE LMS, portfolio, etc.)? What technologies do you see as most promising?

What role does research play in your faculty load?

I understand SNHU may be evaluating courses to also award credentials/badges along with credits. Can you share a little more about that?

On the student experience side, specifically advising areas (academic & career), what are KPIs that you pay attention to? How do you see those changing in the near future?

Do you require your adjuncts to be certified to teach online (is that something you run them through or is it a requirement prior to hiring) and how do you handle faculty development in digital environments?

I hear many higher ed leaders talk about “lifelong learning”. Yet, their focus seems to remain on degrees. What are your thoughts on the role of continuing education in the redesign of the university?

Going back to your comment about debt to earnings for certain programs, how do you balance the problem of student debt against the social value of broad liberal arts education?

M Q continued: I wonder specifically about arts and humanities programs that whose graduates often reach income potential much later than their peers in other discipline areas.

How can we move away from the credit hour model? What can we do to help educate and motivate the new ED secretary to restart pilots of CBE pathways?

I remain concerned that SNHU has (seemingly) given up on the value of lifelong networking. I also don’t hear much about opening minds and lifelong learning in CBE. 

If we see such dramatic increases in student success and outcome if we present flexible learning models, how do we transition more towards flexible education loops with just-in-time learning?

If you could change one federal policy / law surrounding education what would it be?

I have a toddler. What do you think higher ed will look like when he’s ready for college?

The full recording is now on YouTube, and embedded here:

PS: the Forum’s new site is live and growing.

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7 Responses to Redesigning a university: a discussion with president Paul LeBlanc

  1. Great stuff, I caught as much of it as I could. I appreciated his comment to the effect that they’re not Harvard, not trying to be, and if you can go to Harvard then do it, but SNHU is there to serve the 60% of people who can’t scrape up $400 in an emergency.

  2. Charles Morrissey says:

    As a long time researcher in the “virtual university” movement this session should be part of all higher ed strategic planning sessions. Arizona Global and UMASS/Chapman
    alliances are major events in the movement.

    Emeritus Professor Chuck Morrissey, Pepperdine University

  3. Dahn Shaulis says:

    SNHU and other mega-universities are a small but significant part of the problem facing the growing US educated underclass.

  4. Glen McGhee, FHEAP says:

    Can anyone direct me to a body of work that investigates accountability issues in competency-based education? Can anyone explain (with sufficient detail and examples) what competency-based education is, and explain why it is called “education” when it appears to be (merely) credentialing?

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