Top Strategic Issues for Boards 2024–2025

Council Insights: Council of Board Professionals

By Melissa Orth February 15, 2024 March 29th, 2024 Blog Post, Council of Board Professionals

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

The Council of Board Professionals convened in early January 2024 to discuss the important work of identifying and framing issues of strategic importance for boards.

Our discussions were guided by Helen Drinan, interim president of Cabrini University and former board chair and president emerita of Simmons University, who has extensive experience leading institutions through financial and strategic challenges. In addition, Doug Goldenberg-Hart, associate vice president for content strategy and development at AGB, joined the conversation.

President Drinan emphasized the need for presidents and board chairs to be aligned in terms of policy priorities and mission priorities and the board to be educated appropriately. Board professionals can play a key role in achieving both outcomes. Council members shared some of their current leading practices, including:

  • Schedule standing meetings with the president and chair weekly or bi-weekly.
  • Leverage the “full time” nature of the contemporary board officer roles to send them educational resources on a regular basis. (AGB’s Trusteeship magazine is a great go-to resource that is easy to share. Flag articles in the issue you know are important to your board or alert members to an issue that will be important they may not be aware of yet.)
  • In advance of a board retreat, poll board members asking what issues are “on their minds” to help frame the agenda around those topics.
  • Plan special Zoom sessions around top hot issues instead of waiting for the next scheduled meeting.
  • Provide monthly board reports utilizing information from AGB, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and other informational outlets. Discuss the board reports prior to the new business at the next board meeting.
  • Establish a working group that meets regularly and discusses challenges, what the board should be thinking about, how to better cultivate and develop leaders on campus.
  • Establish a subcommittee or working group that focuses on board education.
  • Embed board education in committee charters and workplans.
  • Consider the need to show data in different formats to improve or broaden members’ understanding.

Council members then discussed the four issue categories for the coming two years, including:

  • board independence and leadership (board education and development, improving board culture, managing risks, assessing structure);
  • student success, the student experience, and campus inclusion (design processes and experiences for today’s traditional and non-traditional students);
  • leadership succession and support (invest in success of the president beyond the hiring phase, grow the internal talent pipeline, and be willing to find talent outside of higher education, focusing more on useful skill sets); and
  • innovation and digital transformation (how to use the disruptions of evolving media to create new and flexible models, making the university relevant in the digital age).

AGB members should expect to hear more from AGB on these topics going forward.

President Drinan emphasized student needs must be at the forefront of all we do as they are not only our “customers” but the workforce of tomorrow. Moreover, technology is moving quickly, and students are accustomed to a faster pace, faster access, and more flexibility than colleges traditionally offer. We must meet the students where they are and prepare them for the future.

Identifying your institution’s top strategic board issues will align the board and university leadership, as well as provide a defined direction to drive the university forward.

Define the top issues, process, prioritize, create a plan, take action, and move forward.

AGB has been such a tremendous resource for a wide range of topics important to all colleges and universities that I encourage you to take a few minutes to browse the Knowledge Center on the AGB website and use it often.

Melissa Orth is associate university secretary at the University of Florida.

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