Skip to content Skip to navigation

Higher Education Systems 3.0 - Review

Tomorrow's Academy

Message Number: 

"Edited by Jason E. Lane and D. Bruce Johnstone, this book is a compilation of chapters written by 10 experts who are either experienced leaders of state postsecondary multi-campus systems or scholars of higher education. The editors also contributed to the content, providing their own unique and well-grounded experience in postsecondary systems."


The posting below is a review by Karen E. Hinton of the book, Higher Education Systems 3.0: Harnessing Systemness, Delivering Performance, edited by Jason E. Lane and D. Bruce Johnstone. The review appeared in Planning for Higher Education. Volume 42, Number 3 | April-June 2014 . Society for College and University Planning (  Copyright © Society for College and University Planning. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis
UP NEXT: Gender Considerations in Online Learning


Tomorrow's Academia

---------- 1,544 words ----------

Higher Education Systems 3.0 - Review

Edited by Jason E. Lane and D. Bruce Johnstone, this book is a compilation of chapters written by 10 experts who are either experienced leaders of state postsecondary multi-campus systems or scholars of higher education. The editors also contributed to the content, providing their own unique and well-grounded experience in postsecondary systems.

Jason Lane is associate provost for the State University of New York (SUNY) and deputy director for research at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government. D. Bruce Johnstone is Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Higher and Comparative Education at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York and director of the International Comparative Higher Education Finance and Accessibility Project.

Higher Education Systems 3.0 was compiled to support a conference entitled "Harnessing Systemness, Delivering Performance." The conference, held in November 2012, was part of the SUNY series Critical Issues in Higher Education. The conference topic was designed to clarify the concept of Systems 3.0, described by Lane as a type of enhanced collaboration called "systemness" that will enable higher education systems to be successful in the future (p. 5). That is, system administrations need to move beyond their traditional roles of "allocators, coordinators, and regulators" (p. 5) to provide greater value to their states and the institutions within their systems.

Analyzing multi-campus college and university systems is important, if only because of the large proportion of American higher education they represent. Lane reports that in 2011, there were 51 multi-campus postsecondary systems distributed across 38 states serving over six million students and accounting for more than 40 percent of all public higher education enrollments.

Implied in the content, the purpose of this book is to document the early stages of a discussion about the current environment for postsecondary systems and what recent changes in that environment mean for the role played by system-level functions. The discussion and examples focus specifically on public systems.

The book is organized into three sections. The first three chapters provide a history and definition of "systemness." These chapters develop a picture of the wide range of system types and the state histories that produced such divergence. Lane's overview in Chapter 1 clarifies the discussion through definition and the presentation of a taxonomy of the various types of multi-campus systems in American higher education. He also provides a valuable summary review of the literature on systems.

Chapters 4 through 9 discuss various aspects of the section's theme, "Challenges to System Innovation: Unpacking the Tensions." Consensus across these chapters is found in the identification of system administration's original role: serving as a bridge between state government and individual institutions, especially with regard to funding and budgeting. However, as Katharine C. Lyall points out in Chapter 6, "the primary factor driving [current] change is the movement away from a highly subsidized budget model to one that is driven by market forces" (p. 136). This shift away from state funding has changed the nature of the relationship between the state, the institutions, and system administration. Chapter 5 describes how changes in the financing of state systems have led to shifts in system and institutional priorities, placing more emphasis on specific outcomes such as retention and graduation rather than on inputs such as access and enrollment. Chapter 7 presents an analysis of various system-level board governance structures and offers options for modifying those structures to encourage flexibility in meeting new challenges. Chapter 9 identifies another consequence of diminished state funding: the shift in institutional focus from local students to out-of-state and international students, leading institutions away from their commitment to serve state educational needs.

The final section of the book, "Emerging Roles for Systems," offers examples of how systems have begun to reshape their roles. Chapter 10 distills issues related to the evolving role of the system-level academic affairs function and the use of strategic planning and data management to respond to changing demands. Chapter 11 explores increasing state and national pressure on community colleges for workforce development and asks one of the most pertinent questions facing those institutions: "Specifically, can community college systems, as systems, make a difference in what their constituent institutions deliver for their students and their communities?" (pp. 238-39). Chapter 12 discusses the shift in international education from study abroad for domestic students to programs that recruit and enroll international students in American institutions.

As Lane details in Chapter 1, most of the literature on system administration consists of internal reports, policy documents, and analyses of specific aspects of the system, such as governance or finance. The few holistic studies of systems that have been conducted are extensively cited and referenced in each chapter. Higher Education Systems 3.0 is unique in the literature in that it serves as an environmental scan in support of planning at the system level. As many of the contributors to this volume admit, system administrations historically have provided functional oversight but not the type of strategic thinking that encouraged effective, flexible planning. This book is a preliminary step in a new direction.

Higher Education Systems 3.0 is not an "easy read." Each contributor is a scholar of the profession, and the chapters include numerous citations from the foundational literature to reinforce examples drawn from experience. As an environmental scan for planning purposes, however, this snapshot in time is invaluable. Some of the value is simply in the identification and analysis of current challenges, but there are other aspects of the content that bode well for future success in re-visioning the role of systems.

System administrations were originally created to manage allocation of state resources among the institutions within the system. That role has decreased in proportion to declining state funding, and leaders of systems search for their role in the new environment. One part of that new role was identified by several contributors. It involves the increasing external engagement and internationalizing institutions are engaged in to offset decreases in state funding. In some cases, institutions responding to market drivers can exhibit mission creep; for example, community colleges may decide to offer four-year programs or regional colleges expand into flagship-style graduate degrees. The contributors suggest that systems could adjudicate these initiatives, helping to preserve resources while maintaining service related to the educational needs of the state. As a point of interest, recent legislation in Tennessee (Selingo, 2014) was designed to protect state interests and resources by using a centrally administered set of criteria based on each institution's Carnegie classification.

Conversely, centralized stewardship of system institutions must also support institutional flexibility. The various origins of systems has ensured that American higher education is more diverse and pluralistic than, for example, European institutions (Vinger, 2008), and this cornucopia of educational opportunities should be preserved. A number of contributors to this volume discuss rethinking the use of institution-level governing bodies to maintain unique connections and functions for individual colleges and universities.

The balance needed to ensure system administrations maximize state resources while protecting flexibility exposes the difficult nature of their role. In The Ritual Process, originally published in 1955, Victor Turner explains the theory of "liminality," a condition where individuals or groups are caught in a transitional threshold between two elements of a culture, members of neither element. This condition can be either temporary (as in the transition from student to graduate) or permanent. I once posited that academic deans maintain permanent liminality; culturally apart from both the administration and the faculty, but serving a representational function between the two. The descriptions offered by many of the contributors of Higher Education Systems 3.0 echo this sense of system administration being outside both institutional and governmental aspects of public higher education. Balance is necessary to negotiate between these competing cultures, and is difficult to achieve even when the negotiator is not one of the cultures. Tensions can be compounded when cultural issues also develop between the negotiating organization and one of the cultures with which it interacts.

As good planners know, an organization's perception of itself limits the types of options it is willing to consider in terms of vision and goal-setting. In the case of multi-campus systems, one of the most frustrating cultural aspects of system administration during the past three decades has been the tension between system administration and its constituent institutions. Not unlike the tension between institutional administrators and faculty, system administration and institutions often approach organizational vision and goals from such different perspectives that thoughtful planning and execution are not always possible (DeZure, Shaw, and Rojewski, 2014).

Those of us who have worked at both the system and the institution level know how insidious some of the perceptions can be. Several contributors to this book acknowledged the problematic perceptual and experiential differences between institutions and system administration. This acknowledgement is a positive step in moving the entire organization-system administration and its institutions -toward better operational efficiencies and collaboration. Building on this self-awareness, Higher Education Systems 3.0 also offers preliminary insight into future goals for system evolution that are encouraging and focused on distributed and balanced roles from governance and collaboration to economies of scale.

Proponents of state university and college systems will hope the conversation begun in this book continues, producing the improvements necessary to keep those systems at the forefront of post-secondary education that is the envy of the world.


DeZure, Deborah, Allyn Shaw, and Julie Rojewski. 2014. "Cultivating the Next Generation of Academic Leaders: Implications for Administrators and Faculty." Change, The Magazine of Higher Learning, January-February 2014, Retrieved March 4, 2014 from 2014/cultivating_full.htm l. 

Selingo, Jeffrey. "From Tennessee, a Solution for Mission Creep." The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 17, 2014. Retrieved March 4, 2014 from

Turner, Victor. 1995. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (Lewis Henry Morgan Lectures). New Jersey, Aldane Transaction Publishers.

Vinger, C. J. 2008. "Structural Comparison of Quality Assurance Systems in Europe and the United States." Paper presented at the EAIR (The European Higher Education Society) 30th Annual Forum, Copenhagen, Denmark, August 2008.

Author Biography

Karen E. Hinton, author of A Practical Guide to Strategic Planning in Higher Education (Society for College and University Planning 2012), has held senior planning positions at both the institutional and system level.

See more at: