AGB Releases 2012 Survey of Higher Education Governance, Finds Gap between Board Members’ and the Public’s Concerns

Washington, D.C.—The Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) has released its third survey of higher education governance, The 2012 AGB Survey of Higher Education Governance. College Prices, Costs, and Outcomes: Who’s Minding the Gap between Higher Education and the Public? The survey of more than 2,500 board members of both public and independent universities and colleges focused on board member perceptions about college prices, costs, and outcomes and the often considerable disparity between board members’ views about their own institutions and their thoughts about higher education in general.

Key findings include the discovery that fully one-fifth (21 percent) of board members surveyed disagreed with the statement “The United States needs more of our citizens to earn college degrees,” raising a fundamental question about how board members view their board service and the mission of higher education. In addition, most board members believe that higher education in general costs too much, but not at their own institution.

“What makes this survey important is the insight into how board members perceive public concerns about higher education—its price, cost, and outcomes—and their subsequent actions in the boardroom,” said AGB Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Susan Whealler Johnston. “And what we have noticed is there’s a major gap between the two.”

Highlights from the 2012 AGB Survey of Higher Education Governance include:

  • Tuition and Value
    • Of those surveyed, 55 percent think higher education in general is too expensive, relative to its value; at the same time, 62 percent believe that their institution costs what it should.
    • Almost all boards report that they have the power and responsibility to approve tuition and fees.
    • Close to half (43 percent) report that their institution is doing all it can to keep tuition and fees affordable for students, while another 29 percent say their institution could be doing more to make college more affordable.
  • Institutional Expenses
    • Nearly half (49 percent) say that their institution could be doing more to control expenses, while an equal proportion say it is doing all it can.
    • More board members of independent colleges (51 percent) think their institution is doing everything it can to control expenses than at public institutions (37 percent).
    • Board members of public institutions named “decreased state support” as the number one cost driver, while independent board members named “capital investments and campus infrastructure.”
  • Outcomes
    • Two-thirds of respondents agreed that their institution helps people lead better lives, and slightly less (56 percent) felt the same way about higher education in general.
    • While most board members agreed that more Americans should earn college degrees, 21 percent of board members disagreed with this goal.

The goal of this report is to encourage discussion on prices, cost, and outcome in boardrooms across the country. While most board members collectively agree and feel that higher education has never been more important and changes are needed, many in the same breath feel that their institutions are doing fine. The survey makes clear that boards are not clearly deciphering the public’s concerns about higher education and must find a way to bridge the gap between the public’s needs and wants and boards’ response. Boards must act on what they learn, as well as better explain higher education costs, pricing, and quality to the public. Until they do, the gap will continue to widen.

AGB is grateful to the TIAA-CREF Institute for its support of this project.

TIAA-CREF Institute 


For 90 years, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) has had one mission: to strengthen and protect this country’s unique form of institutional governance through its research, services, and advocacy. Serving more than 1,240 member boards and 36,000 individual citizen trustees, AGB is the only national organization providing university and college presidents, board chairs, trustees, and board professionals of both public as well as private institutions and institutionally related foundations with resources that enhance their effectiveness. In accordance with its mission, AGB has developed programs and services that strengthen the partnership between the president and governing board; provide guidance to regents and trustees; identify issues that affect tomorrow’s decision making; and foster cooperation among all constituencies in higher education.

December 13, 2012