Dashboards for Boards

Take Aways

Adashboard will be different for each institution, reflecting the different priorities that each institution sets. Dashboards should be refreshed and recomputed on a cycle that is consistent with the characteristics of the data.

Trend data for successive years at the board's own institution and comparative data from similar institutions can also be useful in keeping a broad perspective on the institution's progress and place in higher education.

Board members who have used these models in other management solutions can make a valuable contribution to governing institutions. Using these concepts and adjusting them to the needs of higher education can lead to improved communication, planning processes, and overall performance.

Key Questions

What are the key performance indicators that the board needs to be aware of in order to fulfill their fiduciary responsibility to the institution?

How can board members use strategic decision making to help their institutions become more accountable? How can board members use knowledge of strategic management tools to identify the information they need to perform their roles?

Boards often use a dashboard—a specific measure or indicator—to gauge the institution’s situation and to inform their decision making. The metrics are used not only to assess internal progress on strategic priorities, but also to respond to external calls for greater accountability from policy makers and the public.

Key Performance Indicators, Scorecards, and Dashboards

Developing a dashboard requires identifying issues of interest, selecting a small set of measures, linking measures to strategic priorities, customizing a tool for the needs of the institution, and institutionalizing the dashboard into the management process. There are three tools that institutions might utilize:

  1. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): measures of outcomes in those areas in which a college or university must be successful if it is to survive and be competitive.
  2. Balanced Scorecard: looks beyond the single categories of indicators to reflect multiple perspectives that influence organizational success.
  3. Dashboard: focuses on a specific area of interest. Institutions frequently develop multiple dashboards that focus on different concerns.

These tools provide methodologies for reducing data and sets of measures into more manageable formats that communicate the outcomes in a graphic and timely manner. The major difference among the three tools is that there is more discipline required in identifying the much smaller set of numbers used in a dashboard. 

Using the Dashboard

The first step in creating a dashboard—the selection of the indicators—is the most critical component. Indicators should be 1) easy to understand, 2) relevant to the user and to the institution’s overall goals, 3) strategic, 4) quantitative, 5) up-to-date with current information, and 6) not used in isolation. And, of course, the data underlying the indicators must be reliable. Very few indicators are common to all dashboards, supporting the idea that institutions develop their indicators based on their specific strategic plan and institutional characteristics.

The structure of the dashboard should be user friendly and  should provide segmented data within a larger system, allowing the board to view an issue from multiple perspectives to inform its decision-making process.

Common questions that boards will ask about the metrics and structure of the dashboard are:

  1. How does the number compare to other numbers? Users should employ an internal comparison to support a judgment based on relative status within the institution and an external comparison to address a reference group against which to benchmark. Interpretation of these comparisons can act as a leading indicator that helps anticipate future issues and opportunities.
  2. Does the number represent a good thing, a caution, or a bad thing? Establish a range for interpreting the outcome. For example, a composite financial indicator establishes a boundary for financial well being, but boundaries for learning objectives are more difficult to define.
  3. Is the trend going up, going down, or is it stable? The number of years to evaluate for a given measure should be included in the dashboard. The user must also specify how much fluctuation normally is expected before reporting that a change has occurred.

Data on Dashboard Use

Key Performance Indicators are often grouped into five categories: enrollment, finance, staffing, student programs, and advancement. In 2011, AGB conducted a study of boards’ use of dashboards. Results included:

  •  The average number of indicators used is about 29.
  • Financial data is the most widely used category, including measures of endowment and expenses, advancement, financial aid, and tuition and fees. Although surveyed institutions used 100 different indicators in the endowment and expense group, the top three are the market value of the endowment, endowment per FTE student, and endowment return or annual growth rate.
  • Over 77 percent of the dashboards contain some type of enrollment measure. Additionally, 71 percent of the institutions include one or more enrollment measures of special populations.
  • Graduation and retention rates are found on over 70 percent of the dashboards.

For a breakdown of the most common dashboard indicators, see Dawn Terkla’s Trusteeship article, listed below in the resource section.

References

Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. 2010 Policies, Practices, and Composition of Governing Boards of [Independent or Public] Colleges and Universities. Washington, D.C. 2010.

Allen, Clyde, Bacow, Lawrence S., and Skandera Trombley, Laura. “Making Metrics Matter: How to Use Indicators to Govern Effectively.” Trusteeship. January/February. 2011.  

Terkla, Dawn. “The Most Common Performance Indicators for Institutions and Their Boards.” Trusteeship, January/February, 2011.

Need more help? AGB’s reference librarian (available to members only) is available to research specific governance questions, provide sample documents, or recommend resources. Contact her here.

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