HR Administration

University Head Says Big-Picture Collaboration Is Key

By Staff Report

Mar. 31, 2011

More than two-thirds of New York City high school graduates who attend two-year state colleges need remedial classes, but the State University of New York chancellor doesn’t believe in blaming the city.

Instead, Nancy Zimpher wants to collaborate with the Education Department by replicating a process she helped design while she was president of the University of Cincinnati.

The Strive Partnership was launched in 2006 to fix “cradle to career” education. The goal was to get community leaders, educators, not-for-profits, philanthropies, teachers unions and businesses to work together to identify education methods proven to work.

“It’s very hard to point fingers when all the principal parties are at the same table,” she said.

The Cincinnati group used process-improvement techniques to identify five goals, such as making sure that every child is prepared for kindergarten and goes to college. They measured effectiveness, but getting factions to embrace the data was a battle, said Jeff Edmondson, who was the group’s executive director and now heads the national Strive organization.

Teachers unions and administrators cooperated to find metrics they trusted. The data gave them baselines: For example, only 48 percent of students entering kindergarten were developmentally prepared. It also told them what worked to help students enter college: For instance, advising students one-on-one, helping them fill out financial aid forms and making sure they completed at least three college applications dramatically improved students’ likelihood of enrolling, Edmondson said.

Reform led to turf wars as entrenched interests—and their legislative representatives—dug in to protect their funding. “We didn’t do a great job getting political leadership involved,” Edmondson said. The Cincinnati group is now creating a policy team that includes legislators’ staffers.

Collaboration paid off when teacher contracts were negotiated: Administrators won changes that gave them more flexibility in placing teachers.

In 2010, the group saw improvements on 40 of 53 metrics, up from 34 the year before, catching the attention of U.S. secretary of education Arne Duncan and New York educators. Zimpher is working with the Abyssinian Development Corp. to start a collaborative in Harlem. Others are being seeded in Albany and Buffalo. Brooklyn College may help with the next one.  

Filed by Jeremy Smerd of Crain’s New York Business, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail


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