AGB President & CEO Update: Student Success via a Board Committee Lens

By Henry Stoever January 5, 2022 February 11th, 2022 Blog Post, CEO Update

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Happy New Year! I hope you were able to relax and revitalize over the holidays so you can thrive in 2022. 

Colleges and universities have historically put student success at the heart of their mission. In recent years, however, these efforts have been made more difficult by the challenges many students face. For example, many students do not have sufficient financial resources to fund the gap between the financial aid they receive and their actual expenses. Further, an increasing number of students are experiencing high levels of anxiety and depression, and COVID-19 has increased financial pressures and has often negatively affected student mental health. 

For these reasons and others, we at AGB suggest that boards make student success an institutional priority, and that they also consider whether board committees are structured to provide both oversight of and support for their institution’s efforts to advance student success. In this regard, I refer you to an August 2020 blog, “The Postpandemic Committee” by Dr. Joseph G. Burke, an AGB senior fellow and president emeritus of Keuka College. Burke argues that the pandemic would accelerate several changes that boards were beginning to undertake: restructuring their committees, emphasizing planning and prioritization, relying on data and data analytics, and constituting ad hoc committees that include what he calls “wider functional representation.” 

AGB’s 2021 report Policies, Practices, and Composition of Higher Education Governing Boards similarly highlights that boards vary their committee structures both to fulfil their fiduciary responsibilities for oversight and also to address their institution’s specific needs. 

To assist boards in focusing on student success, AGB has constituted a new Council for Student Success. As it moves forward, we will share the council’s insights, recommendations, and leading practices with you. For the moment, let me offer two models that some boards have adopted: 

  1. Some boards have combined historically separate academic affairs and student affairs committees into one “student success committee” since these areas are intrinsically linked in terms of student outcomes. Such a committee could also oversee board and campus policies related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) to ensure campuswide DE&I efforts contribute to academic and student achievement. 
  2. Other boards have instead made student success and DE&I a part of all committee charters, thereby emphasizing their importance to the board’s work and making it less likely that efforts in these areas would be siloed. 

As your board defines both its strategic priorities and the ways in which the institutional budget advances those priorities, we encourage you to ask the following questions: 

Questions for board and committee chairs: 

  • How often does your board review its committee structure? What processes are involved? Former Elizabethtown College president and AGB consultant Theodore Long’s work, Restructuring Committees, is a resource that can help your board think about its committee structure. 
  • Do your committees’ bylaws, charters, and structures intentionally focus on student success and other priority outcomes? 

Questions for board members: 

  • In your committee meetings, do your agendas include student success outcomes such as how to define, measure, assess, and oversee operational priorities designed to support such success? 
  • What resources, events, and other professional development activities can you engage in to strengthen your oversight capacity and to ensure that the work of your committees is consequential? 

Questions for chief executives and leadership team members: 

  • How can you infuse oversight of student success outcomes into your boards’ committee agendas? 
  • In discussion with committee chairs, are there senior staff members who might contribute to the committee’s understanding of student success? 

Finally, I hope you will join us for AGB’s virtual National Conference on Trusteeship, April 12-14, 2022. The conference will feature an unparalleled group of experts and thought leaders for learning and exchange as AGB members set new directions for thousands of colleges and universities. In recognition of the extraordinarily busy holiday season the early bird deadline for registration for the National Conference on Trusteeship has been extended until Friday, January 14. 

My best wishes to you in the New Year! 


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