Chancellor Zimpher Delivers Keynote at United Nations Academic Impact Celebration

November 10, 2015

New York City – State University of New York Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher today will deliver a keynote address on the “Next Generation of Global Citizens” at the fifth anniversary celebration of the United Nations Academic Impact. This prestigious event is taking place now at UN Headquarters in New York City.

Chancellor Zimpher’s address is will begin at approximately 3:10 p.m. and will be webcast live. A transcript of the chancellor’s prepared remarks follows:


Good afternoon – it is an honor to be here today to celebrate the 5th anniversary of the United Nations Academic Impact, and to be among such a prestigious audience.

I think it is fair to say that the world we currently inhabit is vastly different from the one most of us here grew up in. And I hope we can all agree that a large part of that is due to changes in the way we deliver education, and who we deliver it to.

For all the thousands of words that are published every day on the subject of education—on the necessity of education, the value of education, the challenges of education—there is one sentence that has stuck with me, by David Leonhardt of The New York Times. And it is this

“Education—educating more people and educating them better—appears to be the best single bet that a society can make.”

Education—and more than ever, higher education—is indispensable. We know that an educated citizenry is a more successful citizenry. We know the strong connections between higher education and better health, lower crime, higher voter turnout, and more volunteerism in communities.

We know that the higher the degree of education, the less likely you are to need public assistance. We know that college graduates overwhelmingly earn higher incomes than those who do not complete, and that graduates put more back into their local economies.

Our job is to prepare students to be successful in their chosen career paths, to contribute to our economies, and to be well-rounded, global citizens. And most importantly, in this dynamic 21st-century economy, our job is not to prepare them for the world as it is today, but to prepare them to succeed in the world as it will be, whatever the next century may bring.

The United States isn’t the world leader in education we were in the second half of the 20th century – we were last ranked #1 in 1980. And as President Obama touts our “first in the world” goal, we’re certainly not striving to regain the mantle for the sake of bragging rights.

It’s because we know that the United States – and surely, no nation – can meet its potential without providing an education that gives its citizens a real shot at building a healthy, productive life.

And something tells me this world will continue getting smaller and flatter as time goes by. That is why at the State University of New York – the largest comprehensive system of public higher education in the country… sometimes we say world but this audience can fact-check that better than most…  – we are striving to become the most inclusive university system in the country.

I’d like to share just a few examples of how SUNY is responding to the need for a more global education:

  • We enroll a significant number of international students, with 23,000 students from 182 countries of the world this past year.
  • SUNY has a Center for Collaborative Online International Learning, which pairs our instructors and students in real time, with those in other nations, creating an inter-cultural and international classroom experience.
  • And we have one of the largest study-abroad programs in the country, sending upwards of 6,000 students each year to destinations in more than 60 countries.

What we know is that international education—the experiences that are so effective in preparing students to succeed in today’s world—also enhance postsecondary degree completion and student success.

Education abroad results not only in better graduation rates, but is proven to reduce time to graduation. And the data on this shows an even greater gain for under-represented minority students.

So, our goal is to ensure that every SUNY student has a global experience. We want it to be synonymous with a SUNY degree and we are committed to making that a reality for our students.

Beyond SUNY’s individual efforts, what are we doing to ensure that we are not isolated, but integrated, into a network that can act collectively to make an impact?

We are fortunate to have one answer to that important question so close to home—and that is through this confederation – the United Nations Academic Impact, which gives higher education a global platform to collaborate on some of today’s most pressing issues, including climate change, pervasive poverty, and gender equality.

When I began at SUNY six years ago, I coined the term ‘systemness,’ which essentially means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is certainly not a new concept, but it was new to our 64 colleges and universities. They were part of the SUNY system, but they saw that more as a name than a call to action.

I put forth the idea that higher education needs to do a better job of making systemness happen—to move from a highly competitive mindset to a more collaborative one. Rather than spending time competing for students, for grants, and for recognition such as rankings, we should instead be working together to realize more efficiency, to move from competition to collaboration. And, as you know, this not a challenge that is unique to higher education.

The reason we must strive for systemness, is that there is no way to face our global challenges alone. But convincing people to think about how to approach monumental tasks collectively is a challenge unto itself. 

Too often, we are program rich and system poor. We have all kinds of programs, but they are bumping into each other. They are a thousand points of light. They are atoms in the stratosphere. What we need is to have more communities working collectively. We must take the “thousand points of light,” and knit it together into data-based, evidenced, collective impact.

I hope as you move into your panel discussions this afternoon, you will think with an open mind about how we break down the silos that keep us from truly moving the dial.

I’d like to leave you with this quote from another New York Times columnist, Thomas Freidman, who really drives this point home from the United States’ perspective.

If only—if only—we could come together on a national strategy to enhance and expand all of our natural “advantages: more immigration, most post-secondary education, better infrastructure, more government research, smart incentives for spurring millions of start-ups—and a long-term plan to really fix our long-term debt problems—nobody could touch us. We’re that close.”

I hope you’ll indulge me as I bring our global perspective to bear on Mr. Friedman’s words…

If only we could come together on a global strategy to enhance and expand all of our natural advantages: more access to education, better communication and sharing of best practices, broader dissemination of resources and research, smart incentives to address climate change—and a long-term plan to end poverty—nobody could touch us. We’re that close.

So friends, let’s rededicate ourselves to creating – and sustaining – bonds that bridge cultural divides and allow current and future generations to work together toward more effective solutions to the problems of today’s global society.

            Thank you.

Chancellor Zimpher was selected as the keynote speaker to represent the higher education sector worldwide. She will address more than 400 attendees, including senior college and university officials from around the world and international representatives who comprise the United Nations community at its New York City headquarters.

About the State University of New York
The State University of New York is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, a law school, the country’s oldest school of maritime, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. In total, SUNY serves about 1.4 million students amongst its entire portfolio of credit- and non-credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide are nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2023, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are more than three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunities, visit

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Holly Liapis
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