Restoring the ‘American dream’ with online learning

Paul J. LeBlanc, the president of Southern New Hampshire University, thinks the “American dream” is dying. Or, at any rate, it’s a dream that’s moving to other countries, but could return to the U.S. via online degree.

EDUCAUSE 2013 attendees discussed the future of online learning.

LeBlanc, who was a first-generation college student, closed out the 2013 EDUCAUSE conference Oct. 18 in Anaheim, Cal., by asking for a show of hands.

“How many of you are also first-generation college-goers,” he asked a sea of college representatives.

Hands shot up all throughout the auditorium.

“So we lived, as it turns out, the American dream, but that story today is actually more the Danish dream,” he said. “Because that kind of social mobility happens more often now and more easily in places like Denmark rather than the United States.”

But LeBlanc said there’s a way to fix what he thinks is a now-broken system, and that’s by using online education to reach the thousands of students who are still considered “non-traditional,” despite their demographic now making up the majority of degree-seekers.

Under LeBlanc’s guidance, Southern New Hampshire University has been — for better or worse — a pioneer in online learning, becoming the fourth largest American non-profit provider of online degrees.

The university began addressing this group of students, LeBlanc said, by first asking “which higher education are we trying to fix?”

American higher education doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. To some, it means a college sports team and the controversy surrounding paying student athletes. To others, it means private, elite schools that are as much about status as education. To faculty, it could mean research and the nature of tenure.

See Page 2 for details on why LeBlanc thinks the credit hour is a flawed system.

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