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First-Ever NASH Awards Honor Trailblazing Higher Education Systems

April 4, 2024

Washington, D.C. – The National Association of Higher Education Systems (NASH) announced today the recipients of its inaugural Seeding, Testing, and Scaling for Change Awards. The NASH Awards recognize individuals and multi-campus systems that have demonstrated commendable efforts in advancing student opportunities and success. These awards were presented during the association’s annual convening of academic leaders in Washington, D.C., with many of the nation’s higher education systems represented. 


“These inaugural awards celebrate the invaluable work of our member systems, which directly embody the Power of Systems and align with NASH’s overarching goal of leveraging systemness to advance prosperity for the nation,” said Dr. Jason E. Lane, President and Chief Systemness Officer of NASH. “The recipients honored at tonight’s ceremony are truly deserving of recognition, and we anticipate ongoing growth and impact of their initiatives across their states and the nation as a whole.”


The Seeding for Change Award was presented to the Rhode Island Office of Postsecondary Commissioner (RIOPC) for their pioneering efforts in developing scalable solutions and evidence-based strategies. RIOPC successfully implemented a funding model and community-based plan to expand the Rhode Island Reconnect program, tailoring support to refugees and forcibly displaced individuals within the state. NASH’s initial Catalyst Fund investment helped spur a significant $8 million increase in state funding, highlighting the tangible impact of their work. This seeding initiative has fostered a flourishing statewide program, setting a precedent as a national model for success.


“At the heart of RI Reconnect is empowering Rhode Islanders with the tools they need to build the future they want,” said Dan McKee, Governor of Rhode Island. “I’m proud of this program’s wide-ranging impact on people looking to achieve their education and career goals. RI Reconnect is a key part in our state’s efforts to raise incomes by 2030 and that would not be possible without the commitment from Commissioner Gilkey and the RIOPC.”


“On behalf of the entire Rhode Island Reconnect staff, I’m delighted to accept this recognition of the hard work they have been performing on behalf of our students,” said Shannon Gilkey, Ed.D., Rhode Island Commissioner of Postsecondary Education. “Removing barriers for students by providing one-on-one supports and coaching all populations, with increasing focus on our migrant refugee community, through the NASH Catalyst Fund has been a game-changer for our systems approach to postsecondary education. For the student, Rhode Island Reconnect allows them to focus on their studies, complete their education, and enter the workforce because of our efforts. I’m confident that our community has benefitted as much from their presence as they have benefitted from the support offered to them.”


The Testing for Change Award celebrates system leaders who have effectively transitioned from small-scale tests of change to implementing systemic practice improvements. This recognition was bestowed upon Holly Pflum from the University of Illinois System, William Bajor from Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), Isaiah Vance from the Texas A&M University System, and Beth Collins from the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (KYCPE). Serving as the inaugural system leads in the Transfer NIC (NASH Improvement Community), these awardees played pivotal roles as trailblazers and primary collaborators in shaping the NASH model of improvement science. Within their respective systems, they spearheaded 11 campus teams in completing a total of 109 tests of change aimed at enhancing transfer student outcomes. These tests yielded tangible improvements in transfer enrollments, credits awarded, and time-to-degree metrics. Subsequently, this team of system leads has provided mentorship to over 15 new system teams and continues to contribute to the evolution and expansion of the NIC model.


The Scaling for Change Award recognizes a member system whose innovative actions, policies, or practices advanced higher education in their state and can have a collective impact at the national level. This award was presented to the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (KCPE). In August 2022, the Kentucky CPE, in partnership with the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA), commissioned NASH to help design the Kentucky Humanitarian Assistance Scholarship (HAS), the first-ever state-wide scholarship for displaced individuals, following a major financial commitment from the Kentucky Commonwealth’s legislature.  KCPE’s efforts intersect with the NASH Refugee Resettlement Initiative, NASH’s Equity Action Agenda, as well as its learning, talent, and “systemness” imperatives. The HAS is scaling across 15 of Kentucky’s campuses – both public and private– and it’s helping to shape statewide refugee and other forcibly displaced support efforts, from access, to education, to workforce development efforts. KCPE, along with NASH and technical experts, has also developed a toolkit to support displaced students in both Kentucky and other states.


“This scholarship program is life changing for students from around the world who have struggled against tremendous odds to rebuild their lives,” said Dr. Aaron Thompson, CPE president. “On behalf of our elected leaders who had the vision to fund this program, our campuses who have worked diligently to make the program a success, and to our partner organizations who have worked with us to create and implement this program, we are honored and humbled to receive this award. We’re proud of the impact these funds have had on students striving for a degree or credential that matters.”


About the National Association of Higher Education Systems

Founded in 1979, the National Association of Higher Education Systems (NASH) works to advance the role of multi-campus systems and the concept of systemness to create a more vibrant and sustainable higher education sector. NASH systems are comprised of more than 700 campuses and serve more than 7.5 million students in nearly every state in the United States. To learn more about NASH and its national transformation agenda, the Power of Systems, visit



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