Paul LeBlanc: “It is essential to put human relations first and place them at the centre of the university system”

Camilo Jose Cela University (UCJC) organised the luncheon-colloquium entitled Reimagine Higher Education with Paul LeBlanc, President of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). In conversation with Nieves Segovia, president of SEK Education Group, Paul LeBlanc spoke about educational policies in his country, the United States, and compared them with the Spanish system. “It is essential to put human relations first and place them at the centre of all systems, whether educational, health, technological or even politics and the police,” he said.

In LeBlanc’s opinion, “Only if universities have a relationship with people, with students, can they help them achieve the goals they have dreamed of all their lives”, and he argued that this mentality is what has led Southern New Hampshire University to success. “Being a university that promotes online education has not affected human and face-to-face relationships with our students.”

The challenge of mobility

The author of books like Students First: Equity, Access, and Opportunity in Higher Education y Broken: How Our Social Systems Are Failing Us And How We Can Fix Them talked about the importance of “establishing a personalized itinerary for each student, based on their abilities and knowledge of who they are, and also that they also know themselves and can choose their own path. Students want easy solutions.” He highlighted the responsibility that higher education institutions have in knowing their students, which includes understanding the barriers to access higher education and also the personal context they have had in the past and also in the present.

Likewise, he has been especially critical of the more traditional American educational system. “We have built a system that is not valid for people with fewer resources. We have created a system based on the hours of their university credits, but this is a problem, above all, for people with fewer resources, because they are the ones who usually have less time to study. Time is a privilege. With our Southern New Hampshire University online model, our students can attend their classes and study when they really can, and not lose quality time to work, be with family and friends, or enjoy their free time.”

For LeBlanc, the competency-based model is the way forward for universities, although there are many challenges, such as assessment and evaluation.  “How do you show that a person is a good leader? In that analysis it is much more difficult to be rigorous, because leadership is not related to being the person with the greatest wisdom. In practice, universities must create the context and the opportunities for the student to put these skills into practice”.

During the meeting, the president of SEK Education Group stated that the president of the SNHU “has created a new type of university”.

Paul LeBlanc’s biography

Dr. Paul J. LeBlanc has been president of the SNHU, located in New Hampshire, United States, for 18 years. In this time, SNHU has grown from catering to 2,800 students to over 175,000 and is the largest non-profit university in the United States. 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 the ten most innovative college presidents in America. In 2018, Paul won the prestigious TIAA Institute Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence in Higher Education, which recognizes the most respected university and college presidents in American higher education.

Paul has been a Senior Advisor at the US Department of Education, USA and has worked on competency-based education, new pathways to accreditation, and innovation. Paul is a member of the Council of the American Council of Education (ACE) and of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Board on Higher Education and Workforce.

Paul is author of Students First: Access, Equity, and Opportunity in Higher Education published by Harvard Education Press in 2021 and Broken: How Our Social Systems are Failing Us and How We Can Fix Them published in 2022.