Collective Impact at the President’s Forum – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Collective Impact at the President’s Forum

In her President’s Forum talk, “Early Lessons in Achieving Collective Impact in Education,” Chancellor of the State University of New York Nancy L. Zimpher engaged with Hobart and William Smith and the Geneva community about the struggles in education facing the country and the strides the government, institutions of learning, and local communities can take toward pooling resources and data to meet those challenges.

“The fact of the matter is, if we were to track 100 ninth graders across this country, we miss out on 25 of those students right at the very point at which they graduate from high school,” said Zimpher. “Our high school graduation rates across this country hover between 65% and 75% of the students, and we cannot afford to lose those 25% of ninth graders who do not graduate. We know that only about 50 of those 100 will enter college immediately following graduation. We pay a lot of attention to freshman and sophomore retention but we’re down to a third of those ninth graders who are still in college after those first few years. Across this country, less than 20 of every 100 ninth graders is going to make it to the baccalaureate or degree finish line. This is unacceptable. It’s clear that we say to ourselves, what is the problem we are trying to solve, and stay focused on that problem, on that challenge.”

Zimmer, who leads the country’s largest comprehensive system of higher education with 463,000 students, was featured following a special panel discussion moderated by President Mark D. Gearan and focused on Geneva 2020 and the significance of the collective impact model in education. A community-wide initiative, Geneva 2020’s partners and supporters work together locally to increase graduation rates, improve literacy and boost career and college readiness for students in Geneva City Schools.

Geneva 2020 is modeled on a program Zimpher helped pilot in Cincinnati, Ohio called StriveTogether, whose mission is to support “the success of every child from cradle to career.” As co-founder of StriveTogether, Zimpher has been instrumental in creating a national network of innovative systemic partnerships that holistically address challenges across the education pipeline.

“We do not have a system of education in America,” she said during her lecture. “We have sectors. There’s an early childhood education sector. No child left behind is essentially the elementary and secondary act where we make K-12 policy. There’s the Higher Education Act where we make higher education policy.” But Zimpher noted that these are “policies that don’t connect. So is it any wonder we have trouble locally getting our act together when we don’t really have a connected system? Those are the challenges.”

“Chancellor Zimpher comes from a deep experience in Cincinnati, where she was an early and important architect, and we’re grateful to have her expertise and her care for higher education and to engage with us in a conversation,” Gearan said in his introduction, noting Zimpher’s book, “Striving Together,” which details many of the opportunities and early lessons in collective impact in education.

In June 2009, Zimpher became the 12th chancellor of the SUNY system, successfully advancing the network of 64 New York colleges and universities across several diverse initiatives and key areas. Her leadership has centered on moving SUNY forward in research and innovation, energy, health care, global affairs and the education pipeline. In addition, she has been an advocate for groundbreaking legislative reforms that ensure SUNY can provide broad access to higher education, while maximizing its impact as an engine of economic revitalization across the state.

Zimpher is also leading SUNY in moving forward on other innovative, system-enhancing initiatives — including shared services, dramatic expansion of online learning opportunities and cooperative education, and new partnerships with K-12 professionals — always with the goal of optimally serving New York’s students and communities and preparing them to succeed in the 21st century. Under Zimpher’s direction, SUNY established the Cradle to Career Alliance, a collective impact effort launched through SUNY’s Office of the Education Pipeline. The efforts established a series of systemic and sustainable regional education networks across the state, bringing together partners who have signed on to strengthen this educational continuum. 

In addressing the systemic challenges in education that the collective impact model seeks out, Zimpher emphasized focusing on “those places where we could make strategic interventions that would have the probability of the most impact.”

Using data to determine where those interventions would be most effective is the most difficult part, she said. But if communities hope to accomplish that, she said, they must “get the right people at the table, agree on the vision, stem the leaks in the pipeline, and convince investors that if you invest in what we see works, you will see a return on that investment.”

When Zimpher came to the SUNY system, she “came with a belief that universities should be anchored institutions” and saw that anchoring reflected in the relationship between the Colleges and Geneva.

“The quality of life of this community depends on this campus, and this campus depends on the quality of life in Geneva and in this region and in this state to be successful,” she said. “I’m very proud of the work you’re doing here with Geneva 2020….I’m thrilled that the city manager is here, the superintendent is here, that the assemblyman’s office is represented, that the team that is leading Geneva 2020 is in the house. Hobart and William Smith are the only private institution in the state that has taken this step, and it’s really quite remarkable.”

The President’s Forum Series, established in the winter of 2000 by President Gearan, is designed to bring a variety of speakers to campus to share their knowledge and ideas with students, faculty, and staff of the Colleges, as well as with interested community members. Recent guests include Susan Brison, Mary Matalin and James Carville, Victoria Reggie Kennedy and Michael Kimmel.