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President’s Dialogue Series returns with focus on students

President’s Dialogue Series returns with focus on students

Tue, Sep 6, 2022
Dr. Paul LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University

Education is the greatest force for social good, but students urgently need something different from a higher education system that’s failing them. So argues Dr. Paul LeBlanc, who will speak at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) on Sept. 22 as part of the President’s Dialogue Series.

LeBlanc’s 2021 award-winning book, Students First: Equity, Access, and Opportunity in Higher Education, advocates for an entire higher education ecosystem in which students have the flexibility to gain, assess and certify their knowledge on their own terms and timelines.

“This is a book that argues for a fundamental rethinking of higher education to one that generally puts students at the middle of what we do. It argues that we talk a good game but much of higher education doesn’t actually put students first,” says LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).

Reform, he says, can address systemic inequities, improve post-secondary affordability and broaden accessibility. That includes alternative and more flexible delivery models, such as online and distance learning. He also envisions a learning environment that values competencies rather than credit hours.

“Any time that you have a one-sized fits all time-based system, you privilege some students and you disempower others,” he says. “If you are low-income, everything takes longer in life. Time is a function of privilege, and the ability to go off for four years to university is itself an incredibly privileged position.”

LeBlanc has served as president of SNHU since 2003. Under his leadership, the university has grown to a student population of 180,000, up from 2,800, and has become the largest nonprofit provider of online higher education in the U.S.

His forthcoming book, Broken: How Our Social Systems are Failing Us and How We Can Fix Them, further draws on his experience and argues many of the systems built to serve people do more harm than good. The book charts a course for rebuilding systems across education, healthcare, criminal justice and government.

The President’s Dialogue Series is an initiative started by KPU President Dr. Alan Davis. The series welcomes speakers to KPU who are leaders in the private and public sectors, both locally and globally.

“Visiting speakers exemplify a commitment to the values of KPU by inspiring educators and engaging all learners in campus and community life. It is our honour to host Paul LeBlanc and learn from his efforts to challenge the status quo and tackle complex issues in education,” says Davis.

“LeBlanc’s courage and dedication to improving student outcomes mirrors our mission at KPU to create opportunities for all learners to achieve success.”

Previous guests in the series include historian and journalist Gwynne Dyer, KPU’s First Elder in Residence Lekeyten, and Thomas Mulcair, former leader of the federal New Democratic Party.

The President’s Dialogue with Paul LeBlanc is open to the public and will be held Thursday, Sept. 22 at KPU Richmond’s Melville Centre for Dialogue. Doors open at 9:30 a.m. The dialogue, which include a question-and-answer period with the audience, runs from 10 a.m. to noon. Admission is free, but guests are asked to register in advance. The event will also be livestreamed.