The Benefits of “Systemness” in Higher Education

AGB Institute for Leadership & Governance Co-Directors Dr. Nancy Zimpher, chancellor emerita of the State University of New York System, and Dr. Jason Lane, former provost for the SUNY System, were both members of the leadership team that developed the Power of SUNY strategic plan and the revolutionary concept of systemness highlighted in Higher Education System 3.0. The concept allows students to benefit from the services and education offered by all 64 SUNY campuses without having to apply to each of them; this afforded the various campuses the opportunity to “emphasize [their] power as a unit,” while also adapting to fully utilize the different specializations in conjunction with each other. Unifying all the campuses under one flagship allowed for the creation of additional programs and opportunities for students who could then move seamlessly through the campuses based on their educational trajectory.

According to Dr. Lane, the concept of “systemness” was a deliberate mindset shift from seeing systems as allocators or regulators to facilitators and collaborators. Rather than have the campuses competing against each other for valuable resources or student enrollment, Drs. Lane and Zimpher urged campus leaders to see the value of supporting students through all possible avenues. “What is best for the student should always be a guidepost,” says Lane. “The more we can create systems that support students, the more students we should be able to attract and that would benefit everybody.”

The largest benefit for administrators of adapting such a system in higher education is the possibility of exchange. This means developing more strategic approaches to sharing resources, including involving the voices of those outside of the immediate campus. “Much of the work that happens occurs through multi-campus communities of practice,” continues Lane, “which have led to folks being able to develop networks beyond their campuses, share best practices, and create new ideas.”

Read Nancy Zimpher and Jason Lane’s opinion piece, “New plan for SUNY doesn’t break from systemness,” on Higher Ed Dive.

Posted on 02.11.2022