How Systems Reinforced the Power of Sharing Ideas and Solutions

By Brandon Bishop, Policy Analyst, The State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO)

System offices have always played a crucial role in sharing information and ideas across their diverse institutions, covering academic planning, racial equity initiatives, and other student support services. The Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) and the University System of Georgia (USG) collectively support 56 institutions, so a groundbreaking idea at one campus can reverberate within a state. With the support of systems, one idea at an individual campus can be shared across a state, increasing the number of students who can benefit from the idea. Along with sharing ideas, systems highlight innovative practices and policies, using data to build onto ideas and programs and begin enacting systemwide change.

Systems share ideas, but they also share solutions, facilitate tough conversations, and support expanding ideas.

Sharing ideas is crucial for a system office to succeed, but it is also important to elevate proven solutions and be data-informed, and both TBR and USG have been able to utilize their networks to turn ideas into policies and programs that benefit thousands of students systemwide.

TBR, as a way of informing their work and developing a culture of inquiry, works closely with campuses to analyze data and use that data to begin systemwide, institution-driven convenings and idea-sharing that are topic-specific and tailored for various campus audiences. One specific topic is advising; TBR hosts annual advising academies to share data and best practices with the campuses. These convenings have multiple partners, including state leaders and institution leaders such as the National Academic Advising Association as well as other institutions across the country. TBR understands that these convenings build on one another by encouraging institution leaders to take what is learned and make modifications to address their specific campuses, so they highlight all-star institutions as a way to begin scaling ideas. In the future TBR will focus on high-impact practices with a specific focus on racial equity, and spotlight institutions doing this work well. They will share this knowledge across the system so institutions can take crucial steps toward racial equity on their campuses.

USG has shown their commitment to student retention and graduation by enacting their Momentum Approach, which focuses on identifying systemic barriers causing disparities around low income and race, to help the system craft changes, remove barriers, and share ideas along the way. One key metric that shows positive results for this approach: even during the COVID-19 pandemic, USG awarded 70,879 degrees in the last fiscal year, a 4.5% increase over fiscal year 2019. With this approach USG hosts two systemwide, data-informed student success convenings led by senior leadership, which include all stakeholders involved in planning and implementing change. Additionally, USG hosts targeted convenings on topics such as advising and spotlighting “all-star” institutions. USG hosted six advising-specific events over three years, while continuing additional convenings as well. These other convenings have two focuses: case-making and providing how-to components. The earlier convenings were focused on building support among institutions and showing them the key areas of growth and how to approach them, so when it came time to implement, USG could host convenings on mindset approaches and improving advising practices. Attendees were encouraged to engage in cross-campus collaboration to deploy the all-star methods highlighted.

Idea-sharing has always been a crucial component of a system office’s work, but with new problems arising frequently and pervasive problems such as systemic racism continuing, idea-sharing allows institutions to learn from one another and efficiently implement policies and practices that address these key problems and have immediate impact on students. Institutions know their students well, and often have the pulse of their campus communities. When institutions enact solutions that work, the system office has the power to convene campuses, showcase best practices and data, and work with other institutions to begin implementing the idea to best serve their own campus communities and states.


Brandon Bishop is a Policy Analyst at SHEEO. His work portfolio includes the Frontier Set, the SHEEO Membership Survey and Report, and SHEEO’s racial equity work.