November 30, 2011; Source: The Wall Street Journal | Preparing high school students for post-secondary educational experiences is inarguably a challenging process, but a chancellor of one higher education system believes that for inner-city students who need remedial support, it is one that could be made easier with better collaboration between public school systems, nonprofits, and the higher education community. In a recent story, the Wall Street Journal highlights the “one-woman campaign” being waged with corporate and philanthropic leaders throughout the state by Nancy Zimpher, chancellor of the State University of New York, for financial support for this type of program.

According to her bio on SUNY’s website, Zimpher began her education career in a rural setting as a teacher in a one-room school in the Ozarks, and through subsequent roles as president of the University of Cincinnati and board member of CEOs for Cities has developed a strong interest in urban education. The Wall Street Journal points out that while at the University of Cincinnati, Zimpher helped to establish the Strive Partnership, now a Social Innovation Fund grantee. 

Elaborating on the underlying concept behind her current effort at SUNY and her interest in working more directly with education systems and nonprofits in cities throughout New York, Zimpher told the Journal, “What we’re trying to do in these metropolitan areas is refocus the services that already exist there, because they are applied in a totally random manner.” The Journal points out that in 2007 (the most recent year that data are available), more than 40 percent of SUNY community college students needed remedial support, at a cost of $70 million a year, and that the institution’s four-year colleges do not provide this type of support at present. 

Reactions to Zimpher’s plan by city leaders have been mixed. In response to the Journal’s question about her assessment of the need for the program, Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state Board of Regents and “a well-known voice in Manhattan’s most powerful circles,” responded, “Do I see the resonance in New York City? No, but boy, do I see a need for it upstate.” The story notes that Zimpher has had an easier time selling the concept in Albany, where leaders have already been meeting for the past few months to assess the availability of resources. Because Buffalo has only limited experience with these types of ventures, local leaders worry that now might not be the time for implementation. Robert Gioia, president of the Buffalo-based John R. Oishei Foundation, told the Journal, “It’s about a community working together collaboratively. That’s an anomaly in Buffalo at times.”—Anne Eigeman