Happy New Year! As AGB celebrates its 100th anniversary as the exclusive organization focused on empowering university, college, and foundation board members to serve as strategic thought partners with presidents/CEOs and leadership teams, this message provides my thoughts about:
- Discussing what matters most;
- Implementing new strategies to address challenges and opportunities; and
- Two important AGB initiatives for 2021.
Discussing What Matters Most
Please join me in committing to heightened board collaboration with the leadership team and others to determine the institution’s long-term, strategic focus. My sense of urgency stems from the compounding effects of the pandemic and a significant drop in international enrollments, coupled with growing public sensitivity around the high cost of attending many institutions. For state-funded public institutions, the situation is even more dire as state support is likely to decline further. In essence, we will not be able to operate many colleges and universities in the same/similar ways that we have in the past.
We are living in an era when it is more critical than ever that higher education focus not only on students’ educational completion, experience, and workforce preparation, but also on broadening the term “student success” to mean education that will benefit individuals throughout their lifetimes, enabling them to participate in society without the burden of overwhelming debt.
So what are my suggestions for you as you embrace this transformation? In your future board meetings, I strongly encourage you to develop agendas that include discussions, in collaboration with faculty and staff leaders, about your institution’s:
- Prosperity gap (the distance between current financial performance and a prosperous future) so that you clearly understand what will be required if the institution is to achieve financial sustainability in this current environment;
- Vision, mission, and key areas that distinguish the educational experience you provide your students compared to other institutions;
- Justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies to ensure that they are manifested throughout all institutional programs and priorities, including the recruitment and retention of faculty, staff, and other collaborative partners who comprise the campus community;
- Segment-specific access, retention, graduation, and employment metrics; and
- Strategies to make the college experience more affordable, even as you continually seek to improve the value proposition of your institution.
Implementing New Strategies
Often, the most significant indicator as to whether an institution can respond to the considerations above is an openness to change. Fundamentally, change management is a mind-set. Effective change requires individuals who can quickly adapt to sometimes unforeseeable disruptions to the status quo. Even in this increasingly complex environment, it is imperative that boards foster nimbleness and efficiency in adapting to and driving change in higher education. Success also depends on an effective board-president partnership in which board expertise is leveraged to help shape and inform transformative strategies to create a vibrant future for your institution.
AGB has two major initiatives that we plan to develop throughout the year that can have a tremendously positive impact on the work of your institution.
The first is our Principles of Trusteeship project, which details the most important responsibilities and characteristics of highly effective individual board members. Traditionally, AGB has focused on the work of the board as a whole, since authority rests with the full board as the governing body. However, a board is only as strong and effective as the collective wisdom and actions of its members. The Principles of Trusteeship are designed to empower individual board members to serve as strategic thought partners in governance and leadership in concert with their boards and chief executives.
Second, our initiative on Justice, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (JDE&I) will, among other critical outcomes, support boards in gathering diverse perspectives so they can make better, more well-informed decisions.
Thank you for your continued partnership and engagement. I look forward to working with you to build strong board/CEO alignment and seeing you virtually during our upcoming events.