Board Members Believe Public Feels Positively about Higher Education, Express Concerns about Affordability, Student Debt, and Enrollment

By December 21, 2018 March 7th, 2019 Press Releases

Today, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) released the 2018 Trustee Index, an annual national survey of higher education board members conducted in collaboration with Gallup. The Index reveals that the majority of the nation’s college and university board members believe that the general public holds a positive opinion of higher education’s overall value. However, issues such as affordability, student debt, and perceived biases in academia are continuing to erode the public’s trust in higher education. Board members are thus concerned about the future of the sector and, to a lesser extent, of their own institutions.

The Trustee Index is part of a large and growing portfolio of tools that board members can use to understand the context in which they serve on behalf of the higher education sector. Released under AGB’s Guardians Initiative™, the Index details the current perceptions of board members on issues related to affordability, challenges facing the sector, attention to advocacy, and a host of other major issues. Board members can reflect on these results and their own efforts in order to become better advocates for the value of higher education.

“Trustees are an active and engaged group of institutional stewards, but these results show that there is still work to be done in ensuring board members are engaging productively and consistently on the issues that are most important to their institutions, the sector, and to the public,” said Richard D. Legon, president of AGB. “The Trustee Index and the ongoing Guardians Initiative are important tools for boards and presidents as they continue to hold conversations about how to rebuild public trust in the work of our institutions.”

In responding to questions about their top concerns for the challenges facing their institutions, trustees cited financial stability, affordability, and student enrollment. However, when asked if they believe their board is spending too little, too much, or just enough time on these issues, a significant percentage indicated they believed the time spent addressing these challenges was insufficient.

Additionally, board members were also asked about their role as advocates on behalf of higher education. Three out of four respondents believe it is an important part of their job as board members; however, only about a third of trustees have participated in advocacy in the last 12 months, including contacting local policymakers, business leaders, or a member of Congress.

“As advocates for our own institutions and the sector at large, it is vital for board members to fully understand public perception and to continue to push colleges and universities to address those issues that are impacting the way they are seen by lawmakers, parents, alumni, and the general public,” said David W. Miles, chair of the AGB Board of Directors and a Drake University (IA) trustee. “We must also realize that it isn’t enough to simply focus on our institution and hope the rest of the sector will take care of itself—our futures and fortunes are inextricably linked.”

In 2017, AGB launched the Guardians Initiative, a national campaign to engage college and university board members in reclaiming the value proposition of higher education and its contribution to both individuals and society. The effort seeks to harness the collective strength of some 50,000 trustees—both as fiduciaries and citizens—to play a more active role as advocates for the value of higher education more broadly and to provide information and resources trustees need to be more effective in their advocacy.

The AGB 2018 Trustee Index is the second annual survey AGB designed to assess trustee perspectives on the state of higher education. Results in this recent survey are based on 10-minute web surveys of board members conducted between July 9 and August 7, 2018. In total, nearly 1,300 AGB members across all sectors responded.

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