During December’s inaugural Council for Student Success meeting, 22 board members, chief executives, senior administrators, faculty, and other leaders discussed key issues and opportunities focused on board governance and student success.
Basic Needs Are Academic Needs
It’s difficult to talk about student success and academic needs without talking about the basic needs of students. If a student is homeless, food insecure, and/or lacks childcare and family support, among other necessities, this can impact their ability to succeed. Boards must realize—often for the first time—that basic needs are academic needs, and if they wish all students to succeed, then organizational cultures will in many cases need to change. Evidence demonstrates that students will ask for help if they feel like they can—if they feel like they belong. Faculty, administrators, staff, and other members of campus communities contribute to students’ feelings of belonging, and the part each of us play shouldn’t be overlooked. Henry Stoever, AGB’s president and CEO, recently published a CEO update discussing the value and purpose of holistic data to oversee student success, especially as it relates to meeting students’ basic needs.
The centrality of academic excellence, including the scaling of exemplary classroom strategies and other “high-impact practices” (HIPs), must be a key focus of boards and presidents together going forward. Generally speaking, and based on various studies, we know that students who participate in HIPs, especially students from underserved populations, tend to have greater academic success and more positive educational experiences. This includes internship, research project, study abroad, and other experiences that can be out of reach for students with limited financial resources. Many boards are interested in scaling up proven strategies and asking institutional and system leaders how we can offer more high-impact opportunities to students. They are also interested in smart advising software and predictive analytics to monitor student progress and provide targeted interventions that improve student progress. These include paid internships and changes to financial aid practices to meet student needs.
Board Governance Strategies
Most boards will be hard-pressed to sufficiently address the scope of student success challenges absent fresh governance strategies and resources to center that work. AGB is in the midst of grant projects that are focused on board policies and practices that make a difference when it comes to student success. Here are some ideas that continue to remain at the forefront of discussions:
- Policy-level matters related to educational programs, student support services, and needed investments should come to the board.
- Boards should declare student success among their priorities, regularly reviewing disaggregated data on key metrics about student enrollment, retention, and completion and using these data for related decision-making.
- Boards should ensure that institutional resources are aligned with affordability, retention, and educational quality as they relate to student success. Additional investments in services that have been shown to support student success, such as mental health counseling, medical clinics or health centers, disabilities services, emergency loans, and other offices and programs that support the health and well-being of students cannot be overlooked.
- Asking questions is a key responsibility for boards. Consider these and other questions from this month’s “On My Agenda: The Keys to Board Oversight of Student Success” by Henry Stoever.
Inequitable student success isn’t success. Boards need to better understand disaggregated data on key metrics, firsthand knowledge of students’ experiences, and examples of good practices. These are needed to inform and motivate boards and provide direction for policies and practices. Data, insights, and ideas are important parts of understanding and addressing all aspects of student success. Disaggregated data should include race/ethnicity, gender, family income, and other metrics that reflect the diversity of students and their increasingly complex pathways to and through higher education. This is especially important given projected population and demographic shifts over the next few decades.
Throughout this discussion, one reminder continued to present itself: student success in context is essential for boards to understand their institution’s value and promise to its students—ALL of its students. If institutions and systems don’t look at disaggregated data about who did and didn’t graduate, or who was and wasn’t “successful,” then they are missing opportunities to identify equity gaps that merit interventions and investments.
Advancing equitable student success. Boards also need to better understand the pivotal role boards can play in advancing equitable student success. Boards and presidents need to embrace the challenge of having uncomfortable conversations about race, ethnicity, and equity issues, get comfortable having these difficult conversations, and model this for our campuses. The AGB Board of Directors’ Statement on Justice, Equity, and Inclusion and Guidance for Implementation along with the AGB Board of Directors’ Statement on Board Responsibility for the Oversight of College Completion encourage these types of conversations. They are core to effective board governance, mission fulfillment, and equitable student success.
Future council conversations will continue to focus on board governance and equitable student success.
Thank you to AGB Sustaining Partner AT&T for their support of this council.
Cristin Toutsi Grigos is the associate vice president for content strategy and development at AGB.
Opinions expressed in AGB blogs are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the institutions that employ them or of AGB.