Lessons from LeBlanc

Last week, I heard a tale from higher education that offers yet another example of the benefits of both academic and business innovation (Great to be reminded of our 2051 Project lessons learned!). I was in Boston chairing a review team, which included a meeting with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges – Commission on International Education. The opening speaker was Dr Paul LeBlanc, President of Southern New Hampshire University, who has lead the campus through remarkable five-year growth in terms of revenue and student enrolment.

I love to learn from passionate people, and part of my job is to keep track of what is happening in the broader educational landscape that is shaping the future of education. So when I hear from leaders who have actually implemented change effectively? I take notes. Here are the highlights from his talk:

Online education has exploded

  • In addition to traditional day courses, SNHU began offering evening and weekend schedules, online programs and courses that combine online and classroom learning.
  • When considering “the student experience” with online courses, they looked at the motivation of adult learners, who want credentials, flexible completion time, convenience and cost.
  • One reason that their online learning is better than traditional learning is due to the ability to enhance student assessment and communication. Through an effective Customer Relations Management system, advisors are alerted when marks are in the system and they make phone calls to students to offer advice for improvement, before their grades are public. This is a wise retention strategy!
  • In five years, their online program has become the second largest in America, with 70,000 students.

The next wave of education will be competency-based

  • SNHU started a third stream (in addition to face-to-face traditional courses and online programs) called College for America, a competency-based program. Students may complete assignments both on and off campus at their pace, as well as apprenticeships and internships through over 600 partnerships.
  • There are two critical questions: what claims does the school make for learning, and how do you know?

We must be open to new models, for example:

  • Another driver of change in higher ed is immersive learning simulations.
  • Clayton Christensen’s advice: We make strategic missteps when we are not clear on what we are paid to do.
  • SNHU reexamined the traditional model for determining workload – credit hours – and additionally offered release time to faculty who engaged with students. They wanted to reward those faculty members who engaged with students.
  • GEMS is fastest growing K-12 for-profit school internationally.
  • Udemy has 9 million students and 35,000 courses, with the ability to design your own course.

Hope these notes are helpful in thinking about your school’s innovation strategy.

The real scoop on boarding

I had the opportunity to give a presentation last year and Prince Andrew was in the audience. Afterwards, he pointed to me at lunch, and said, “You! Sit here! I want to grill you!” And what did he want to ask? “Tell me something… What is wrong with today’s parents who don’t want boarding?”

I had the chance to share a few thoughts about what is different – or wrong! – about today’s parents at the TABS Conference, as I was asked to speak about the parent perspective on boarding.

We have two kids – Jacob and Kathleen – and we chose a boarding school experience for them for high school. This was a huge decision, and it has not always been easy – especially for a mom!

Let me start by telling you what I miss:

I don’t get to watch Jacob play soccer or Kathleen play field hockey. On Saturday mornings? I don’t get to make crepes for my kids when they wander downstairs in their PJs. And I don’t get to curl up with my daughter to watch an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. It bugs me that I don’t know their friends well, and I wish I could have them over. If you follow my blog, you will know that I rarely hear from them, and when I do? It’s a one word text – and that word is ‘good’ – or it’s a question, something they need. I don’t know what they have for homework, and I don’t even know exactly what happened when Jacob hurt his arm playing rugby last spring, but he wore a sling, which I only saw in photos.

Let me also tell you what I hear:

When I say my kids are away at boarding school? I get one of four reactions:

  • I’ve never heard of that, really?
  • We have strong, very innovative schools in our neighbourhood.
  • That’s a lot of money – are there scholarships?
  • I would consider it, but my wife would never send the kids away.

So as a mother who values family and relationships? And in a society where women define their self worth by their contribution to the development of their kids? Where parenting has become a bit of an obsession and the best word to describe their behavior is anxious?

It feels crazy to chose boarding.

Now don’t get me wrong. I believe in boarding…I know of the transformative effect it has on students. As a working mother? Boarding works well for our family. But more than that – I actually believe that I can be a better mother when my children board, for they are supported, challenged – and loved – by professionals who share my values, who are passionate, good, and even a bit quirky.

TABS is launching a North American Boarding Initiative (NABI) and 80% of our Canadian boarding schools are supporting this new effort to better tell the story of why boarding is great for children. I was honoured to share the reminder that boarding is also great for parents.