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Higher Education Leaders Across the Nation Pledge to End Student Inequities through The Power of Systems

December 8, 2021

College and university systems will hold themselves publicly accountable with student-focused metrics addressing completion, mobility, and debt reduction

State, federal, and philanthropic partnerships will make the work possible

For Immediate Release: Wednesday, December 8, 2021
Contact: David Belsky; 347-227-0055;

Washington, D.C. – College and university leaders from across the United States gathered in the nation’s capital today to launch a new initiative called The Power of Systems. The plan calls for a network of higher education systems working collaboratively to deliver real progress for student success while tackling systemic inequities that too often stand in the way.

From the outset, participating college and university systems have agreed to hold themselves accountable to three overarching metrics prescribed by The Power of Systems. These include credential completion, social mobility, and student loan debt reduction. Together, these measurements will indicate meaningful progress toward the plan’s ultimate goal of Advancing Prosperity for the Nation.

The Big ReThink Superconvening where this is all happening is hosted by the National Association of System Heads (NASH), a membership organization of 43 systems of higher education across the country. It is the culmination of NASH’s Big ReThink strategic planning process, which over 18 months in the throes of the pandemic tapped into the minds of key stakeholders to produce a transformation agenda for public higher education systems. Participants in the process included system heads, senior academic officers, chief financial officers, diversity-equity-inclusion officers, campus representatives, key partners, and supporters.

“There is perhaps no challenge that is more important to securing our country’s future than making sure that all children, youth, and adults are provided with equitable access to high-quality educational opportunities,” said Miguel Cardona, United States Secretary of Education. “I am deeply encouraged by your work, and am so pleased that U.S. Under Secretary of Education James Kvaal will represent me at the launch of The Power of Systems. This is a very important moment for the country, for the future of higher education, and for the public will to improve the condition of our lives for generations to come.”

“We are in the midst of a crisis the likes of which American higher education and its students have never before faced, rooted in the devastation of the global pandemic, rising inequities, and racial strife. As public systems, we have a public mission – a public responsibility – to get this right,” said Nancy Zimpher, senior fellow at NASH and chancellor emeritus of The State University of New York. “I’ve said it before and I will say it again: we can make no apologies for setting high standards. The students of our nation deserve nothing less.”

The Power of Systems plan consists of five imperatives that guide the work and three components that will help to implement it. One of these components, a new Institute for Systems Innovation and Improvement, will drive the implementation of the imperatives, which include:

  • Learning: System-wide support for flexible and responsive programs to meet the unique needs of each student.
  • Talent: A civically engaged and globally competitive workforce that contributes to community vitality, economic development and knowledge creation.
  • Equity: Just and accessible opportunities that empower all students through the removal of structural and systemic barriers.
  • Investment: Collective resource sharing and efficiencies to reinvest in student success.
  • Systemness: Leveraging the power of public higher education systems to better serve students and society.

“Systems of public higher education serve the largest mass of students attending college in this country,” said Rebecca Martin, executive director of NASH. “Together, we are a major instrument for change to truly meet this country’s commitment to underfunded communities, and the youth and adults who seek a better education, gainful careers, and a high quality of life. We are presenting not only the results of our discussions with a very clear idea of how this transformation would take shape, but how we can address the launch and sustainability of this initiative, in partnership with leading national organizations, and state and federal education leaders.”

Those partnerships with state and federal education leaders will be anchored by the other two components being announced as part of The Power of Systems. The Redesign of State Infrastructure will strive to assist systems in collaborating with their state partners to improve on the goals they’ve committed to. This team will produce a tool-kit for tackling infrastructure issues, provide evidence-based research and consulting, and create an annual report card to publicly track progress.

The last piece is the Federal Plan for Support which will highlight NASH’s partnership with the U.S. Department of Education to increase the cost effectiveness of federal investment in higher education, improve interagency collaboration and beltway partnerships, set direction for upskilling the nation’s workforce, and identify integrated funding opportunities.

In addition to pursuing support through state and federal governments, NASH and its member systems are establishing the Big ReThink Fund. A collaborative fund for strategic partners of The Power of Systems, the Big ReThink Fund will begin its first catalyst funding cycle in 2022. Contributions will be used to make grants based on cost-benefit analyses that address urgency and impact, and along practice and process tracks. Inaugural members of the Big ReThink Fund include the Carnegie Corporation of New York, ECMC Foundation, Luce Foundation, Lumina Foundation, Open Society Foundations, and Strada Education Network.

The Superconvening was made possible thanks to the generous support of diamond-level partner TIAA, as well as Segal, ACUE, Liaison, and Huron.

College and university systems and other partners interested in joining NASH’s work to end student inequities through the work of The Power of Systems can learn more at

About the National Association of System Heads
The National Association of System Heads (NASH) is the association of chief executives of the 52 college and university systems of public higher education in the United States. The goal of the association is to improve the governance of public higher education systems.


Media Contact

David Belsky