Council Insights: Council of Board Chairs, March 2022

Accreditation and Board Governance

By Cristin Toutsi Grigos March 21, 2022 Blog Post

Opinions expressed in AGB blogs are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the institutions that employ them or of AGB.

AGB’s Council of Board Chairs had a vibrant discussion on accreditation, which included a preview of the forthcoming 2022 AGB-CHEA Joint Advisory Statement on Accreditation and Governing Boards. The conversation was facilitated by AGB Senior Fellows Jill Derby and David Maxwell, governance experts who also serve as members of AGB’s Accreditation Advisory Group.

Meeting Highlights

AGB affirmed that a key element of board accountability for educational quality and institutional autonomy is awareness of and engagement in the process by which the institution and its various educational programs are accredited

When considering the question, “What does accreditation signal to the public?”, board chairs agreed that accreditation indicates an institution upholds its values related to academic and fiscal integrity. There was also agreement that accreditation is focused on quality assurance and continuous improvement.

Council members confirmed the importance of establishing an ongoing orientation or accreditation education program for board members, with particular attention to the way in which accreditation relates to such core values as mission, institutional independence, educational quality, and academic freedom. In addition, members agreed that orientation programs should include an overview of accreditation processes and the number and types of accreditations that are held.

Members also affirmed the need for board members to understand accreditors’ standards for board governance. Generally, typical standards for board governance include:

  • ensuring the institution’s mission is kept current—regularly reviewing and aligning the mission with academic programs;
  • focusing on strategic governance and oversight, not operations and management;
  • selecting and regularly evaluating the president;
  • defining and addressing conflicts of interests;
  • protecting the institution from undue influence; and
  • periodically discussing and evaluating the board’s responsibilities and performance.

Key Takeaways

Governing boards of institutions and systems should be appropriately engaged in the accreditation process. Boards must respect the leadership of the chief executive officer, the chief financial officer, the chief academic officer, and the faculty; acknowledge the importance of accreditation to serving students; and understand that board engagement, awareness, and follow-up are fundamental to their fiduciary responsibilities.

Governing boards and chief executives should consider the following questions, among others:

  • What is the system or institution’s plan for self-study?
  • Has the institution/system allocated adequate resources to complete the self-study?
  • In terms of assessing progress, what (if any) issues were raised in the last self-study and accreditation report? Have those issues been fully resolved?
  • Are there accreditation issues embedded in components of the current strategic plan that require attention before the next accreditation review(s) can begin?
  • How can accreditation reports aid institutional/system planning efforts?
  • How will your board discuss the alignment between educational programs, allocation of resources, and mission?
  • How will your board ensure that academic priorities are supported by resource-allocation decisions?
  • Does your accreditor(s) maintain standards for board governance? If so, what are they and how will you assess them?

Effective planning is important to ensure the board is not surprised by the results of an accreditor review. Several council members offered recommendations for planning, such as:

  • providing an early overview for the board about what to expect;
  • ensuring the board’s institutional performance indicators include/align with those applied by the accrediting body; and
  • providing the board with the institutional self-study and a briefing on anticipated questions or findings in advance.

The forthcoming 2022 AGB-CHEA Joint Advisory Statement on Accreditation and Governing Boards represents the best thinking of both AGB and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) on the relationship of governing boards to the process of accreditation. The statement will be published and shared with all members on March 30, 2022, prior to AGB’s National Conference on Trusteeship. Our staff looks forward to conference sessions and working with our members on accreditation and the role of governing boards.

AGB would like to thank council partner RNL for its support of these convenings and AGB’s work. RNL also offers a suite of resources to help institutions properly prepare for accreditation.

Cristin Toutsi Grigos is the AGB associate vice president for content strategy and development.

With thanks to AGB Sustaining Champion RNL for their support of this council.