Strategic Initiatives

The National Association of System Heads (NASH) is the association of the chief executive officers of America’s 46 public university systems.


All of the systems include multiple four-year institutions, and several also include two-year institutions. Together, public university systems educate approximately three-quarters of the nation’s students in public, four-year higher education and a significant proportion of students seeking two-year degrees. How these systems are organized—that is, multiple institutions operating with a single system governing board and chief executive—makes them particularly well positioned to tackle issues critical to the future of their states.


Unlike most other national education organizations, NASH functions more nearly as a “network” among the 46 CEO’s who come together both in informal setting and through collaboration on a few highly focused, voluntary initiatives. Further, in recognition of the important role played by the senior leadership team of each system, NASH has expanded its engagement efforts to support Chief Academic Officers, Chief Budget Officers, Chief Government Relations Officers, and Directors of Institutional Research.


NASH is staffed by an Executive Director and Deputy Director who mobilize the collective capacity and expertise within member systems and partners with other organizations with relevant experience.


Reframing Systems (Transformational University Systems)


Public university systems are critical social and economic drivers that leverage the collective capacity of their campuses in myriad ways, particularly during times of rampant change. Systemwide coordination efforts offer many benefits to member campuses, including: greater efficiencies, coordination and quality, academic integrity, differentiation, insulation from competition, and a sharp and collective focus on the needs of students and communities.


Demographic changes and lagging levels of higher education attainment among young adults have converged to crystallize the importance of postsecondary systems in sustaining national competitiveness during the 21st century. Enrollment levels of non-traditional, low-income, and underrepresented minority students continue to grow at our colleges and universities. Moreover, the educational attainment of our working population continues to decline relative to other industrialized nations, compromising our national competitiveness in a global economy.


The evolution of our student populations and a stagnant national level of educational attainment have served as a bellwether of our national need for dramatic increases in postsecondary completions. This presents unique challenges and opportunities that systems are best positioned to navigate due to their ability to: provide shared services, set system-wide priorities, drive innovation, and coordinate alternative pathways that include online learning.


Due to their ability to serve as laboratories for innovation, hubs for analysis and gatherers of organizational and environmental intelligence, systems are able to create economies of scale and scope that are essential to meeting that shared responsibility, as well as current and future demands. To that end, systems are evolving to meet contemporary demands in key areas that serve as NASH’s strategic initiatives, which are listed below.


In recent years, cross-system collaboration has focused on targeted, evidence-based student success intervention strategies to magnify the impact on student outcomes across many institutions. These approaches have emphasized increasing student access and success in college, especially for low-income students and students of color, given the moral and economic imperatives surrounding the completion agenda.

NASH’s Strategic Initiatives

      click a topic below to learn more…

Taking Student Success to Scale (TS3) is a degree completion initiative led by a collaborative of higher education systems and campuses. This unprecedented partnership across diverse higher education systems and institutions—as well as support from the White House—the ability of NASH to launch and support improving student outcomes and closing gaps has never been greater. Please visit our website dedicated to TS3 for additional content and resources regarding the initiative:


TS3 is based on the principles of collective impact and improvement science, and leverages student success interventions that are proven to promote student success, particularly for low-income, underrepresented minority and non-traditional students. These interventions include:


  • Redesigned Math Pathways
  • Predictive Analytics
  • Scaling High Impact Practices

Despite the evidence that illustrates their effectiveness, these interventions have proven difficult to scale. By creating a networked improvement community solely focused on tackling issues related to the interventions, TS3 represents an opportunity to leverage systems as mechanisms for diffusion and scaling.  For more information on TS3, please reference the links below.


NASH is hosting an ongoing webinar series for Taking Student Success to Scale.  To learn more about a particular intervention, please click on a link to one of our webinars below.


The issues of college access and success continue to grow in importance; systems and the colleges and universities that compose them currently face challenges due to social, political, economic, and technological changes. If they are to fulfill their roles as drivers of social mobility and economic growth, they must redouble their efforts to: broaden access and opportunity, promote diversity, prioritize completions, and ensure quality at an affordable cost.


To that end, NASH works with its member systems to ensure that all students are offered the opportunity to better their lives and communities through higher education. Partnerships with our members and members of the higher education community help to strengthen these critical efforts.


Access to Success Initiative (A2S)
The Access to Success (A2S) Initiative is a project of the National Association of System Heads and the Education Trust. Spanning 22 public higher education systems that have committed to close access and equity gaps for low-income and minority students in half by 2015, A2S serves more than 3.5 million students.


Learn more about the A2S Initiative here.


Implementing Common Core Standards
For years, NASH has been equipping states and their postsecondary systems to implement the Common Core State Standards. In an effort to strengthen the partnership between K-12 and Higher Education, systems have been deeply involved in the implementation of Common Core State Standards. Through this support, NASH seeks to strengthen college readiness and increase completion rates, allowing students, communities, and institutions the ability to reap the benefits of higher levels of educational attainment.


Higher Ed for Higher Standards
The Higher Ed for Higher Standards coalition of system, SHEEO, and college and university leaders from across the United States. The coalition, which is part of the Collaborative for Student Success, is grounded by its mission of elevating the higher education voice in support of efforts by K-12 administrators to implement college- and career-ready standards, including the common core standards.


Further Reading:



National Professional Science Masters Association (NPSMA)
Together, NASH and the Professional Science Masters Association (NPSMA) have forged a partnership that has led to the development of graduate programs that align educational supply with the economic and workforce demands of a twenty-first century knowledge economy. Professional Science Masters programs allow graduate students to develop skills and competencies and scientific knowledge to careers while also providing them with the real-world experience of applying them, through partnerships with industry, non-profit, and public sector organizations.


Further Reading:


As the higher education community awakens to the critical role of the Institutional
Research (IR) functionality in improving student outcomes and driving institutional
performance, the National Association of System Heads has released the results of a twoyear
study and a series of rubrics that can be adopted by higher education systems and
campuses nationally to increase access, completion and success among students and


View available resources here:

Assessing and Improving the IR Function in Public University Systems
Progress Report on the NASH Project in IR, March 2014
Press Release: NASH Institutional Research Project

Continuous technological advancement and ongoing social and demographic changes are driving forces behind the ubiquity of alternative modes of educational delivery in higher education. Modes of learning, such as eLearning, skill and competency based education, simulations, and open access to online courses all accommodate the more varied demands and pathways to completion needed by post-traditional students. By deconstructing the boundaries of time and space, alternative modes of delivery offer many benefits to students, institutions, and systems, including: increased access, greater convenience, an enhanced learning environment, improved student outcomes, and revenue generation.


Ensuring quality outcomes through these alternative modes is a priority for higher education where they are leveraged to achieve economies of scale and scope. Systems have important roles to play in this. Their ability to offer a centralized hub for these models of alternative delivery modes offers more fluid integration and greater efficiencies across campuses. Additionally, systems can monitor quality, promote standardization, provide assessment, and connect assets across campuses to advance new and vibrant modes of learning.


Evolving Institutional Research
Ongoing efforts to drive change in public system Institutional Research functions are critical to ensuring that systems and institutions are able to suitably balance compliance reports and future demands with today’s fiscal constraints. Institutional research functions have been important in improving student outcomes, increasing system and institutional effectiveness, and gathering and synthesizing data to inform strategic decision making. However, many IR functions divisions have struggled to keep up with a growing list of competing demands due to: increasingly diverse and complex demands for data and knowledge, rapid advancements both in data storage and analyses, and misalignment between compliance reporting and the contemporary postsecondary landscape.


To that end, NASH is currently working to assess the state of IR at both systems and campuses through a multi-phased project designed to uncover challenges and opportunities faced within the function. Through partnership with system IR offices and a panel of national experts, the project will result in the development of a reconfiguration framework that can be used across the field that will result in:


• More effectively coupled and differentiated IR and IT functions,
• Insight into metrics and indicators that will strengthen your efforts to improve postsecondary performance,
• Strengthened relationships between systemwide and campus IR offices,
• Enhanced abilities to communicate your findings to myriad stakeholders; and
• A greater understanding of comprehensive professional development to meet future demands.

Too often, K-12 and higher education are seen as two separate systems. This division fails to recognize that in fact, both K-12 and higher education share the responsibilities of social mobility and economic growth. This complementary nature has not resulted in effective partnership, even though a stronger relationship would be beneficial to students, civic society, government, the private sector, and to the organizations themselves.


K-12 and higher education are experiencing similar challenges, including: heightened accountability and scrutiny, the impact of a changing population on traditional models of learning, fervent domestic and international competition, questions about quality, and declining or stagnant state appropriations and federal spending.


These challenges, combined with growing pressure to increase our national level of educational attainment, have intensified calls for greater partnership between K-12 and Higher Education. As such, systems have emerged as strong advocates for a stronger K-Career Pipeline by leading initiatives to: align programs of study, improve student service to ease the high-school-to-college transition, develop more interdisciplinary curriculum, improving the delivery of instruction, advancing teacher and administrator training and professional development, and closing achievement gaps.

It is broadly recognized that postsecondary students follow many paths to completion, often moving between institutions in pursuit of a degree. A host of reasons exist for this, including: changing enrollment demographics, a growing need for lifelong learning, an increasing suite of educational delivery methods, and trends in the internationalization of higher education. Understanding these patterns is critical to facilitating student success and improving institutional and system performance.


Despite this acknowledgement, the manner in which higher education institutions, systems, and public agencies monitor trends and create strategies related to student performance and institutional effectiveness do not reflect this reality. The majority of postsecondary students are ‘non-traditional’, which has implications for the way we think about and create strategies for access, retention, transfer, and other facets of our institutions and systems.


New perspectives and approaches to student mobility are essential to meet the needs of an increasingly complex reality. Leveraging systems to facilitate the creation of measures and strategies that support these non-linear paths to student success offers a natural method of doing so.