SUNYCON 2016 Remarks

SUNYCON 2016 Opening Remarks

Thanks, Chairman McCall, and welcome…

I. Introduction – The Forces Shaping the Future of Higher Education

In a little over one week, we will elect our 45th president.

With this transition of power approaching—as we come to the end of a long, historic campaign season, we are faced with the question of what kind of country we want to be.

For all the talk of jobs and the economy and what’s best for it, for all of the sparring about equity and inclusiveness and fairness, there’s been so little talk of what it takes to make sure Americans are ready for work, ready to contribute and succeed. There’s been little talk—too little—about what education means to our success and stability, our standing in the world.

This near absence of education from the campaign talk makes our meeting here, right now, especially timely. We’ve assembled all this brain power and experience to talk and think together about the forces shaping the role of higher education in our country’s future.You yourselves are those forces.

SUNYCON this year is also timely not just because of the election, but because we as a country are in a place in our national development where we are faced with the very real need to—as David Leonhardt says beautifully—to educate more people, and educate them better.

Technology dictates this necessity. The way we share information and opinions, our use of media and social media. Our nation’s broadening diversity dictates it. A need for informed, civil public discourse dictates a need for a modern vision and new action in education.

This message is more important than ever, because today higher education is called upon to give students more with less, and to do whatever we can to help them graduate with less debt. We are called upon—necessarily so—to make college campuses safer, to come to terms with the reality of campus violence and to end it. We must, like never before, work together to make our colleges and universities fully inclusive places that celebrate and promote diversity.

These are the forces that are shaping higher education, and we are going to explore every last one of them over the next two days. Because that is what this conference is all about. It’s why we come together year after year.

But this year is especially poignant. This year, more than any of the first five years, I really feel like SUNYCON—like all of us in this room, collectively—can be a major force in shaping the future of higher education.

So let’s get on with it!

II. The Path in 2016

To reflect …

Great ground has been made in the past ten years. Through trial and error, through scrutiny of data, we have made discoveries in what it takes to move the dial on education outcomes. And in the application of those discoveries, we are seeing results. 

President Obama announced this month that the high school graduation rate just reached an all-time high. We have rebounded from the lull of past decades, and we are now at 83.2%. Critically, Latino and African American high school grad rates are also on the rise.

Nationally, college enrollment is up 31% since 2000, with 4-year degrees from public colleges going up the most, by 40%.

College enrollment among minority students is climbing too.

These and other markers show movement in the right direction. That’s good. It’s what we want. We’re on the right path…but that doesn’t mean we’re there yet. It’s just not enough.

Because for all these gains, according to the Lumina Foundation and others, it amounts to only a few ticks, just a 2% increase since 2008, in overall college attainment for adults in the U.S. We are simply not on track to meet our national attainment goals.

What do we need to do to do better? To reach these higher benchmarks?

…How do we get to higher rates of high school graduation and—what’s even more important—how can we be sure that high school graduation actually means what we need it to mean? That a high school diploma is a real signifier that students are ready to take their next steps.

…How do we boost college enrollment and—importantly—college completion?

…And while we can measure college completion, what about knowing if that degree you invested in led to a job. Are the degrees being earned paying off? We need to ensure that the pursuit is worthwhile. And we need to figure out how to track and measure it. We’re simply not there yet.

This is big picture stuff. It’s a lot to consider and a lot to do. And we need a champion at the top. President Obama understands a lot of this work. He’s asked questions and he listened. He’s called new and more people to a bigger, broader education table.

I’ve even heard him use the term “cradle to career,” which is music to my ears! Eight years ago, there was no talk of cradle to career or the education pipeline.

But now it’s time to look ahead. President 45 needs to pick up this standard and carry it even further, and faster. The kind of country we are, our collective future and success, depends on it.

III. Three Recommendations for the Next President

So what if we offered President 45 something like a higher education road map? What if we, a thoroughly cross-sector group like us, offered our expert insights and strategies and data from which President 45 could build an education platform for the next four years?

Coherent, collaborative, compelling … It’s a lot of ground to cover, but for me, I think there are three interventions that could really move the dial. Like three legs of a stool, recommendations that could truly improve education outcomes…improve the quality of education…and ensure access and opportunity across the board.

And tomorrow in our closing “Dear 45” panel, let’s take what we learn from one another over these two days to build on these recommendations. Because in leveraging our collective knowledge, we’re not only suggesting what needs to be done, we actually can point to how it can be done.

  1. Shore up the seamless education pipeline

    The first leg of the platform is to shore up the entire length of the education pipeline, period.

    The metaphor of the “leaking pipeline” has been around for years. You know it well. It’s not new. But what is new, is evidence-based information on how to fix it.

    The greatest gains in education are happening in schools and communities that have decided to collectively own the responsibility for improving student success. The communities that agree that success doesn’t rest alone on the shoulders of the education sector, but that it’s on everyone. Businesses and local government and philanthropy—all of which have a real stake in how their communities’ students do.  

    We are seeing the biggest differences in places that have identified key student outcomes—

    …Kindergarten readiness…Fourth and eighth grade reading and math…High school graduation…College enrollment… Completion and career success—and making decisions about programming and teaching based on evidence for what works. They’re measuring the outcomes to be sure they’re investing in only the best strategies.  

    When I was president of the University of Cincinnati, the education outcomes in that city and in Northern Kentucky just across the river were not good. High school dropout rates were above the national average. College enrollment and completion were low and outcomes were especially troubling for students of color.  

    But the region we’re talking about has some outstanding assets. In addition to UC, we had right there other educational powerhouses like Northern Kentucky and Xavier. We had Proctor & Gamble, a vibrant United Way. The city has a strong philanthropic streak and also had its antennae up about social justice and equity.

    So a bunch of leaders from across sectors—education and business and others—got together. Instead of standing back with folded arms, shaking our heads and pointing fingers, we looked at ourselves and each other and asked, “What can we do together?” 

    The result, now ten years later, is StriveTogether. What started in Cincinnati as an entirely new approach, a cross-sector, cradle-to-career approach to education, is now a 60-plus community national network of C2C initiatives.

    We committed to investigating strategies that actually work in moving the dial, and we examined and measured results relentlessly. Still do. If something wasn’t measurable, we weren’t going to invest in it.

    Trending positive across the board.

    So if we can agree that collective-impact works at the local level, how do you take it to scale so more students can benefit? How do we create policy around it?

    Well, Utah found the answer. Just this past May the state put a collective-impact policy on the books. Voted it in. As did Minnesota! Congrats to both.

    Like the Strive model, the Utah collective impact partners must set shared goals. They have to agree on the outcomes they’ll measure and how they’ll measure them. They have to make a plan to share data, share accountability, and provide matching funds.

    Utah knows that collective impact works. They legislated it, they incentivized it. They acted.

    That’s the number one thing that we need President 45 to know—that the real collective-impact approach works. It takes time and patience, but it works. And the more states that do what Utah has done, the better our outcomes will be. We want 45 president to support that, to urge it, to deliver it!
  2. Re-invent teacher training

    The next leg of our platform is to address the need to reinvent how we teach teachers in the United States. Because, through the many changes and challenges schools face, one thing is constant: Teachers are the number one in‐school factor for student success.  

    We know this. Mountains of evidence tell us. And we know it at a time when our country is facing a major teacher shortage.

    Over the next 10 years, we will need 1.6 million new teachers to take the place of those who are retiring. And we can’t go about recruiting, selecting and preparing teachers as we have in the past.

    Not only because we want to raise the bar, but also because we desperately need to diversify our teaching workforce. Approximately eighty-five percent of the U.S. teacher force identifies as white, while fifty percent of P-12 students are young people of color.

    And one of the main challenges to recruiting and retaining teachers is simply that it is a tough job.

    …It requires deep content knowledge that needs to be continuously refreshed.

    …It requires pedagogical expertise that needs to be continuously developed.

    …It requires performance skills. Patience and great stamina and heart. You’ve got to care. You’ve got to be creative and flexible and on your feet and responsible. You’ve got to inspire.

    Is there any other profession like teaching? Absolutely not!

    SUNY is the state’s largest preparer of teachers. A quarter of New York’s teacher workforce comes from SUNY schools. So we decided that this challenge is on us. Because we prepare the teachers, who prepare the students, who come to our colleges, ready or not.

    But we also know we can’t go it alone. It’s too complex.

    For the first time ever, SUNY and the New York State Education Department—Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and I—through what we call TeachNY, are working together to create a new playbook for teacher preparation in New York.

    And we have everyone at the table—teachers, faculty, union leaders, legislators—everyone with a stake in the game. We’re learning what we need to do to prepare the best teachers and to support them throughout their own pipeline from recruitment to pre-service to novice to master.

    We also know that teaching is a practice profession, but at a time of high-stakes testing, when the teaching profession is on the defensive, it’s no wonder that K-12 schools are not clamoring to offer in-depth and long-term field experiences. It’s easy to say you don’t want a rookie in the classroom. But if we took that mindset and applied it to medicine—arguably the most high-stakes profession of all—how would we ever get high-quality doctors?

    So, what if we took the model of “teaching hospitals” and made similarly clinical “teaching schools”? The federal government kicks in $15 billion a year toward the cost of training future doctors. Imagine if we had something like it, anything even approaching it, to support teacher training.

    We have models for teaching schools in education; they’re called Professional Development Schools. The problem is we don’t have nearly enough of them, nor the type of incentives we need to scale this approach.

    Cementing teaching as a clinical practice profession is just one important step towards ensuring that every student—without exception—has access to great teaching.

    Hear that, 45?
  3. (Re)-define “college promise”

    For our third leg of this platform, I want to continue the conversation about “college promise” and be really, really clear about what we mean by that.

    The classic perception of college students—18 to 21 year olds who go to school full time—is really only about a third of the college population. Our students have evolved, and so have the expectations for the credentials they will have when they enter the workforce. Which is where America’s College Promise comes in.

    When President Obama launched college promise, it was distilled to “free community college.” Since then, pundits, policymakers, and presidential candidates have debated whether it should be “tuition-free” or “debt-free” or some other definition of free.

    As I heard Vice President Biden say just yesterday at the final community college summit under the Obama administration: “Community colleges carry the fate of the country’s competitive capacity for the next 20 years.”

    So, we’ve got the vice president saying — accurately, by the way —that community colleges are a determining factor in our overall success. And we know that half of all undergraduate students are attending community college. And we know that half of them are underprepared when they arrive… well then, we know, now, where we need to start.

    It says here I’m a frequent flyer to the White House. I think today is the day I tell you I’ve never been to the Oval Office. I’ve hardly been in the West Wing. But it’s clear to me. Every time SUNY is represented at these summits, that there is in this administration, a clear commitment to getting higher education right. Because they know—as do all of us—that we have come to a point in America’s history where we have to consider whether a high school diploma is enough.

    I can tell you that in New York alone, less than half of the adults hold a college degree, but 70 percent of all jobs will soon require one. That’s an astonishing gap. It’s on us to do something about it. And that’s precisely what America’s College Promise aims to do.

    This week, the Campaign released its first report, taking a look at the characteristics of 150 Promise programs from across the country.

    Anyone who has played a role in a Strive community can attest to how difficult it can be to come that far – just to begin to benchmark your data. But the next step is what’s going to be the most important part if we carry this campaign forward.

    We have to set parameters around an approach that is both evidence-based, and can be customized to fit the unique needs of local communities and institutions.

    And once we get the Promise right, how do we deliver on it? How do we help those same students advance through college and into career? Which students, institutions, and credentials are “college promise-ready”?

    And how, at the end of every day, of every academic year, how do we put all this together to make sure every investment we make – every investment students and their families make – results in meaningful college completion?

    Access and enrollment are critical, but it’s finishing that matters. That’s where the investment and the self-pride, the accomplishment, begin to pay off. 

    As I said earlier, there are important policy discussions happening right now that must continue. America’s College Promise is one of them.

    We – all of us – must be the voices to carry these conversations into the next administration. To make sure America keeps building on its promise to today’s students and the next generations of students.
IV. Conclusion – Harnessing the Forces

Successful societies require an educated citizenry.

Where we need to be crystal clear, is what we mean by “an educated citizenry.” What does that look like in the 21st century, and how do we get there?

Education is not just about earning a higher income for yourself. It’s about a quality of life for individual human beings and the principle that when everyone does better, we all do better as a country. It matters how we talk about this.

That we talk about it often and openly and at a high level. And that’s where the media comes in.

In these two days, at this frankly crazy time in our nation’s history, when it feels like so much is on the line, we have this opportunity to talk about this aspect of our culture and our future.

You are the messengers. If we are to confront the forces shaping our sector, to harness them, higher education needs to shift into the future, and to do that we need voice … your voiceour collective voice.

We need to reach into every community in the country and convince them of the need for this work. Of the need for a new national vision for education—for the how and who and when and what for—and with that vision rooted in our collective consciousness, with new tools in our kit, create policy that empowers us to make that vision real for everyone.

After all, it’s on us!

My name is Nancy Zimpher, and I approved this message.
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