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Early History: Network for Change and Continuous Innovation: Higher Education’s Network for Change Leadership

Prepared by Brent Ruben, Maury Cotter, and Louise Sandmeyer

Sept. 6, 2020

First Steps

The early history of NCCI can be traced to the 1990s, a time when higher education was the subject of widespread critique for what was characterized as detachment, resistance to change, and inadequacies in preparing students for workplace realities, among other concerns. To address these issues, corporate and higher education leaders came together to create the Total Quality Forum, to identify enhancements in business and engineering education and to introduce corporate quality approaches to improve the organizational effectiveness and efficiency of university operations. Partnerships were created between senior university and corporate leaders from Motorola, Procter & Gamble, AT&T, Texas Instruments, IBM, Ford Motors, Johnson & Johnson, and several others. Change leaders in the involved universities were engaged with senior campus leaders, and a series of national and campus-based conversations were held to clarify shared aspirations. From these efforts, NCCI—then the acronym for the National Consortium for Continuous Improvement in Higher Education—emerged quite naturally to become a national network of campus change leaders.

NCCI was founded in 1999 to address the pervasive view that higher education institutions could and should become more adept at identifying, sharing, and applying principles and practices to advance their academic and administrative processes. A further aim was to create a nationally visible network to bring together individuals with a desire to contribute to the advancement of these purposes and to create an organization that would encourage information and best-practices sharing among individuals and institutions and the involvement of other like-minded individuals from various avenues of higher education. Finally, as a consequence of these efforts, it was envisioned that the consortium would enhance the knowledge and skills of its members and enable them to be more effective agents for change within their institutions.

Early Leadership and Structure

The first organized board of NCCI in 1999 included:

  • Ron Coley, University of California–Berkeley, Berkeley, California
  • Maury Cotter, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, Wisconsin
  • Susan Hillenmeyer, Belmont University, Nashville, Tennessee
  • Phyllis Hoffman, University of California–Berkeley, Berkeley, California
  • Rita Murdoch, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire
  • Joan O’Brien, Villanova University, Villanova, Pennsylvania
  • Mo Qayoumi, California State University–Northridge, Northridge, California
  • Brent Ruben, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, New Jersey
  • Louise Sandmeyer, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania
  • Chet Warzynski, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

Brent Ruben of Rutgers served as the founding board president in 2000, followed by Louise Sandmeyer of Penn State, John Dew, of University of Alabama, Paula Gill of Belmont, and Maury Cotter of University of Wisconsin–Madison. Ron Coley of UC Berkeley served as founding treasurer throughout the first decade. Marsha Moore of Texas State University  served as Chair of the Membership Committee for more than ten years. For a complete list of officers and board members.

NACUBO provided NCCI’s administrative support as NCCI was getting established. In 2004, NCCI became separately incorporated, engaging an association management company to provide the infrastructure to support the growing number of members and events. NCCI grew to about 90 members by 2008–10, then dipped to about 50 members, and since then has been on a steady rise to the current 100+ institutions. The Board of Directors approved a name change to the Network for Change and Continuous Innovation in 2012 to reflect both our growing international network and the expanded range of work roles of our members.

Acting on Core Principles

Core principles to advance the goals of continuous and systematic improvement included: (1) forging strong interpersonal and institutional relationships within the existing group; (2) growing NCCI, adding and welcoming new institutions;  (3) building collaborations with associations, especially NACUBO and ACE; (3) hosting national events to elevate the continuous improvement platform; (4) promoting individual campus program identities along with the national effort; (5) facilitating communication within and among members and institutions; and (6) providing opportunities for competency enhancement for members.

Partnerships and Alliances

In pursuit of these early goals, NCCI formed an alliance with NACUBO, thanks to the support of Presidents Jay Morley and later, John Walda, and Vice President Susan Jurow. A collaborative relationship was also developed with the American Council on Education (ACE), owing to the vision and support of President David Ward and Vice President Ellen Babby. Together these relationships advanced the goal of maintaining connections with leading administrative and academic associations and their members. NCCI leaders met with ACE and NACUBO presidents/top leaders in Washington on a number of occasions to identify opportunities for collaborative convention programs, publications, and other events. ACE and NACUBO helped sponsor and serve as speakers at NCCI events. Each invited NCCI to provide special sessions and tracks at their annual conferences, which were consistently a strong draw and highly rated, leading to invitations to offer sessions for many years. NCCI served the unlikely role of bringing ACE and NACUBO together on shared issues. These partnerships helped NCCI establish a foundation upon which to advance its aspirations and conferred an important level of legitimacy within the landscape of higher education associations.

The Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities existed between January 1996 and March 2000 to create an awareness among public universities of the need for higher education reform. The Commission consisted of the presidents and chancellors of 25 major public universities, along with private sector leaders. A final report called for a renewal of the partnership of the public university with the society it serves. The Commission was coordinated by NASULGC, now APLU—the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. As they were nearing completion, a few members of NCCI (Brent Ruben, Louise Sandmeyer, and Maury Cotter) were engaged to help design approaches for implementing those recommendations. NCCI members also collaborated with the Juran Institute at the University of Minnesota, as it explored and researched effective quality approaches.

In subsequent years, a partnership with Follett, spearhead by Ron Coley, provided sponsorship for the nationally recognized Leveraging Excellence Award program. See Awards. Other collaborative relationships were also formed in support of NCCI goals. Follett helped promote and raise awareness of NCCI nationally.