Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Systemness: A Case Study

Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Systemness: A Case Study

Article excerpt

This article traces the launch of a substantial reorganization of public higher education in Connecticut through the lens of "systemness". The case study details the dynamics and challenges of implementing "Transform CSCU 2020" in a period of turbulence and change with a concluding focus on lessons learned.



Connecticut are experiencing a dramatic and unprecedented period of change. This article charts the early stages of this process, presenting events as they unfolded during Governor Dannel Malloy's first term, through his November 2014 reelection, and until his state budget passed in June 2015 (from January 2011 through June 2015). This period of upheaval and planning is central to understanding the current trajectory of what administrators, legislators, faculty, students, and staff have come to know as "Transform CSCU 2020."

The recession of 2008 and its corresponding impact on state revenues led to increasing interest among state higher education leaders in adding value from the locus of systemwide purpose and strategy. This notion, integral to the concept of "systemness," suggests the promise of sweeping change. This article focuses on the recent consolidation of the Connecticut higher education system as a case representing a comprehensive effort to achieve systemness.

State-sponsored and -supported higher education systems face increasing pressure to improve student access, cost containment, and performance--particularly in terms of completion and demonstrated evidence of value or outcome. Much of this pressure can be traced to the 2008 recession. One leading authority writes that the

most far-reaching change took place in Connecticut, which adopted the
governor's proposal to eliminate the statewide coordinating board (the
Board of Governors) and consolidate two systems (the Connecticut State
University System and the Connecticut Community and Technical System)
and the State Board for Academic Awards under a single Board of Regents
and president appointed by the governor. (McGuinness 2013, pp. 63-64)

Of course, systemness advocates are cognizant of the limits and challenges in achieving these objectives. Individual campuses typically and not unexpectedly have their own histories, cultures, niches, and visions for the future. Often these are manifested in a desire for more autonomy and less centralized control of both operational and strategic concerns. This campus-based view is also manifested in reactions to allocator, coordinator, and regulator roles. Campus leaders worry about the potential impact of the heavy hand of bureaucracy on local innovation. Advocates of systemness--in Connecticut as well as in many other state higher education systems--are challenged to balance the promise of centralized leadership and localized prerogative in designing and implementing policy. Nancy Zimpher, chancellor of the State University of New York and a leading voice of the systemness perspective, argues that the value-added benefits of systemic "collective action" can be attractive and impactful where campuses benefit from such policy: "The value added can perhaps most clearly be seen in the benefits that being part of a system provides to each of its component campuses" (Zimpher 2013, p. 35).

This research assumes that systemness objectives can be identified in terms of the fundamental core processes of higher education: teaching and learning, basic and applied research, and service. In the case of teaching and learning, state policy makers can work to affect pedagogy, content delivery, standards and competencies, and curricular- and cocurricular-based student services. A focus on research can track policies promulgated by central administration relative to what students, faculty, and staff do, how they do it, and with what result. State-initiated support for faculty research and the recruiting and retaining of quality faculty serves to enhance state policy goals relative to technology transfer and the applied applications of faculty work. …

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