“Higher education as an industry is very tradition bound [and] changes slowly,” said SNHU President Paul Leblanc.
It takes a strong-willed risk-taker to break down the walls of tradition and build up new ones. LeBlanc is at the forefront of higher education and uses the process of innovation to create new breakthroughs within it.
LeBlanc keeps himself in the conversation of innovation by allowing the university to seek change and accomplish good work. This can be anything from a faculty member on the main campus who wants to try something new with virtual reality, to someone proposing a new program or project such as Project Atlas. These actions, as LeBlanc describes them, are all inventive attempts to learn.
“We always ask ‘is this good for students?’” Leblanc stated. “Part of my job is to get students the resources to allow them to do these things. My job is to tell our story to the large external audience.”
LeBlanc has been recognized many times regarding innovation throughout his 14 year career with SNHU. He was named one of America’s Ten Most Innovative College Presidents by Washington Monthly and has received the New Hampshire State Merit Award from the New England Board of Higher Education. In 2012, SNHU placed #12 on Fast Company magazine’s “World’s Fifty Most Innovative Companies” list and was the only university included. In 2015, LeBlanc won the New Hampshire Entrepreneur of the Year Award and Forbes Magazine listed him as one of its 15 “Classroom Revolutionaries.” A year later, Forbes recognized him as one of the “most influential people in higher education.”
More recently, Forbes recognized LeBlanc as one of just four university presidents to demonstrate innovative success. In an article posted on June 7 entitled, “Not All University Presidents are Risk Averse and Boring,” LeBlanc is acknowledged with successful university presidents Gordon Gee (West Virginia), Mitch Daniels (Purdue) and Michael Crow (Arizona State) as individuals who are bold risk-takers and have left a mark on academic success. Gee, Daniels and Crow are all leaders whom LeBlanc holds in high regards as they have used innovative ideas to make their institutions responsive and novel.
“All three of those presidents are people I have huge respect for so to be included in their company is flattering,” said LeBlanc. “We’re all very different from one another and run very different institutions. It’s a good thing; it shows that higher-ed can be innovative in different ways.”
Since his induction as president nearly 15 years ago, LeBlanc transformed SNHU from a small business school of just 2,500 students to a large university of close to 100,000 students. Enrollment has grown about 35 fold since then and the institution now operates the second largest online program in the country. In addition, SNHU’s Manchester campus became home to an Engineering, Technology and Aeronautics College in 2017. SNHU also became the first university in the state of New Hampshire to provide scholarships to esports’ teams for Fortnite, Hearthstone, League of Legends and Overwatch, which LeBlanc announced via Twitter in early August.
Because of SNHU’s dramatic recent growth, LeBlanc is moving far beyond the traditional model and plans to deliver in terms of enhancing the lives of SNHU’s students.
“When a student chooses to come here, our number one goal is to help them to become successful. What does successful look like? Really strong academic programs that help them get the kind of work and careers that they want. It’s really working hard to be affordable so they’re not in debt to be here. It’s giving them a safety net in which they can try new things, spread their wings, get out of their comfort zone, but know that they have the support system around them. It’s making opportunity available. It’s all of those things.”
LeBlanc plans to keep SNHU in the conversation of innovation for as long as possible. His drive to perform effectively and try new things will allow him and SNHU to achieve the success he strives for.